Saturday, July 22, 2006

"We Just Want To See Them"

As Toll Rises, Lebanese Resort To Mass Graves
Saturday 22 July 2006

In Tyre, victims of airstrikes are buried in hastily built coffins so a hospital can hold other bodies. Many had no relatives to ID them.

Tyre, Lebanon - They would bury their dead in mass graves, the doctors decided.

The government hospital had run out of room for human remains by Friday. More than 100 bomb-wrecked bodies were already crammed into poorly refrigerated container trucks, and more corpses were pouring in daily.

So they built cheap coffins of pine. Bulldozers carved 6-foot-deep trenches into a desolate lot littered with old telephone poles. [...]

Soubiha Abdullah rocked back and forth as she waited for the bodies of her family to be pulled from a heap of remains. The doctors had given her rubber gloves and a surgical mask, which she wore over her head scarf.

She had come to identify and bury 24 members of her family, including her sister and her sister's nine children. They died trying to escape their village; Israeli planes had attacked the road as they drove.

"I'm saying, 'God give me the strength to see them,'" she said. "We just want to see them, even if they're pieces of meat."
My mother was not returning my calls, and I asked her friend to check on her. Her friend broke into my mother's house to find her collapsed upon her bed, dead. The police said she had been dead for two days. After listening to her answering machine messages, seated with my sister upon her stripped and empty bed, I think it may have been for as many as four.

The first thing I asked the funeral home director was "Can I see her?" He tried to dissuade me, but was kind enough to go into the holding area to describe the condition of her body. I knew that regardless, [even if she was a piece of meat] I had to see her, and had to make sure my sister and my aunt had the chance to see her too. As hard as it was to see my mother's body, had I not been able to I would have gone something very close to mad. And we picked out the clothes for her cremation: we brought her flowers, we got to see and touch and kiss her twice: once as she was found, and once dressed in the clothes we chose for her. I anointed her with her Chanel No. 5 and massaged her cold skin with the pikake lotion my sister had sent her from Hawaii that remained on the coffee table, unboxed. Her prone body seemed to breathe. A joke, to have her so there and so not there. It was awful. And yet, (shamefully?) not as awful as if it were my sister, my child, or, worst of all, my husband.

And compared to Ms. Abdullah, I have won the lottery. What a luxury, to have the opportunity to have my mother's remains respected in a cheesy Morthern Virginia funeral home. I loathe that funeral home for many reasons and yet they afforded me a grand privilege so many will never have. And ultimately, my poor mother in all her particularity was the victim of her own lifestyle. I think of my particular and plangent grief and imagine it amplified by a billion. To not be allowed to see or touch or kiss or dress or cradle your loved one's flesh? Flesh rendered meat not by time or folly or age but by calculated malice? To have someone you love consigned to a box with a number?

When will people fucking realize that there is no other? That when you condone this happening to anyone, you invite it to happen to you? No one is fucking special or exempt, and that is why we must all try every fucking day to be a little tougher and kinder and better. As a nation of so called plenty, we are wanting a VERY GREAT DEAL. What we are wanting in terms of lack is to see them, see any and all them as us.


Blogger suzanne said...

"When will people fucking realize that there is no other? "

That's it isn't it? That's all we need to know and that's exactly what we refuse to know. And the price of our ignorance is unbearably high. Thank you for saying it here so clearly.

no they. no other. possibly no totebaggers. (But I'm not as sure about that last one.)

9:39 PM  
Blogger queenesther said...

what a beautifully written post. i am truly sorry for your loss.

unfortunately, this country is going to have to go to war, full-on -- draft and all -- before most americans wake up. and believe me, the chickens will come home to roost. it's only a question of when.

1:56 AM  

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