April 1, 2014

Losing people, losing history

I saw this in the news today:
An activist group says the death toll in the three-year Syria's conflict has exceeded 150,000.
Think about that: one hundred and fifty thousand people. Gone. When I read those words this morning, it brought me back to the AIDS deaths of the 1980s. When you lose an enormous number of  people, it's not only the individuals that are lost. You also lose the flavor and history and reality of an era. And of course, and not least, you lose all the shared experiences. No more the joy of getting together with people who played pivotal roles in your life. All gone.

NYC wasn't the same after gay men began to die in large numbers. That was such an awful time. So many talented, productive young people lost their lives, for no reason, really. At the time, it felt like the landscape itself was being altered on a daily basis. "Did you hear who died?!" That was the constant call. It felt like an attack, especially in light of daily casualty counts. It bred fear in us, which was followed by anger. Fury, really.

A pervasive sense of loss spread throughout NY's gay community. And there was also the matter of those missing talents. Stunning young artists, actors, dancers, painters and writers dropped from the ranks of the living. As Robyn Hitchcock said in his song about the passing of Nick Drake: "And when you're gone, you take the whole world with you."

New York was never the same after these mass deaths. And Syria will not be the same country after the current atrocities end. You can't lose that many people and simply restart your country at a later date, as if it had been on hiatus. It's not just people but history, memory and sensibility that is being obliterated. 

It makes you wonder what kind of a world this is. And then you remember that it's all chance, all luck. It's about where you were and what you were doing on a particular day. There's no hiding from it. Death is the grim reaper, paring the world around us on a daily basis. Nothing is assured, nothing is promised -- not really. Life is what it is.

But AIDS was an unknown virus. There is no effective way to elude something you know nothing about. That's not the case in Syria (and in so many other places). People's greed and lust for power should not be allowed to decimate an entire population.

But they are, Blanche, they are. Again and again and again. 


Artichoke Annie said...

Wow, this post really hit home with me on several levels. But you are so right. Senseless deaths that we have the knowledge to avoid.

I sit here writing my uncle's story, World War I, so young only 26 years old. He didn't die alone, 16 million died in that "great war".

And for what, really?

Appreciate your jarring our memories Keith.

writenow said...

Thanks, Annie. It's great to hear that you're writing again. I was just working on my book when I saw your comment. It's a good day when writers are busy.