A year or two ago I saw a picture of dead Syrian children in a street, their bodies piled against a cinder block wall. The photo was published in the paper and nothing was blurred to make the image easier to look at. What I remember most are the shoes because some of the children were too young to tie or buckle their own shoes. I looked at their shoes. When I help my son with his shoes, I’m bending or kneeling in front of him. He plays with my hair or gives me a hug. I kiss his forehead and say, Let’s go.
Shortly after Friday’s attack in Paris I saw a picture that reminded me of the Syrian children. This of a man on the streets of Paris, covered by a sheet. I thought of the Syrian children because at the time I’d wondered what we’d talk about if this pile of children were British or French or American. And now, instead of a Syrian or Iraqi man covered by a sheet, here was a French man and what will we talk about now? I was sad. And I was sad later because I read about Beirut and thought couldn’t that French man on the sidewalk just as easily be Lebanese?
There is a writing exercise I like because the process distills an idea or narrative. I was writing about the attacks and bombings already and this confined my expression.
The exercise is called Ten To One, taken from What If? and it works like this: ten sentences, the first with ten words, the second with nine and so on until the last sentence is a single word.
I Read About Paris
He is on his back on cement, under a sheet.
Only one hand, the white cuff, dark blazer shows.
And the soles of his shoes splayed, relaxed.
He might lay like this while sunning.
Someone knows him but hasn’t heard.
I have seen him before.
He is from Paris.
And other places.
For an interesting perspective on media coverage of Paris and Beirut, read David A. Graham’s essay “The Empathy Gap Between Paris And Beirut” in The Atlantic.