Saturday, April 18, 2015

What Do You See?

      Several years ago, I was preparing a PowerPoint to introduce John Knowles’s A Separate Peace to my students. This award-winning novel addresses the struggle between good and evil both in the universe and in the individual’s heart. I told Brenda Price, our ever-helpful school librarian, I wanted pictures that would represent this struggle. We sifted through images of the most heinous acts in history, of the vilest villains, of the most corrupt institutions. We also sought out the acts of incomparable courage, the heroes, the saints. In the course of our search, she took from a shelf In Their Name, the book commemorating the OKC bombing. We leafed through it quickly but then lingered when we came to the iconic photo that had spread all over the world after the bombing—the one of Baylee Almon’s lifeless little body so tenderly cradled in a fireman’s arms.
In photos from OKC bombing, do you see
evil? goodness? despair? hope?

      As we studied that emotionally charged photograph, the question came to us simultaneously: “Does this represent the good or the evil?”
      It was a difficult question to answer. Difficult, because in that image we are reminded of the vilest, basest, most depraved acts of which mankind is capable. And in that same image we are shown love manifested in selfless sacrifice and heart-wrenching compassion—the noblest of human actions and emotions. 
      That day in the library, Brenda and I came to the conclusion the photograph represents both—the best and the worst of humankind. But as that image continued to invade my thoughts through the years, I came to another conclusion. Whether we see in that picture hate and despair in a hopeless world or whether we see love and hope in a struggling one depends on what we carry in our own hearts.

                                         Double Exposure
                             Lifeless baby,
                             victim of hatred,
                             cradled with love
                             in a fireman’s arms

                            Timeless image,
                            quintessence of grief,
                            to man’s condition

                           Ageless question—
                           goodness or evil?—
                           answered only
                           by the viewer’s heart


  1. It's impossible not to see both - and the contrast makes each image sharper. Remembering, with headlights on, 20 years ago today when good and evil collided in a way never to be forgotten.

    1. "...when good and evil collided..." a poignant and precise description, Shel.


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