Reflections on the bombing of the Baghdad pet market
They were easy to spot at the bus stop. Serious. Neat in a painstaking sort of way. Very deliberate. Each afternoon a group of slightly retarded but functional young adults boarded the bus at a nearby interchange in a group on their way home. One had a daughter, but the man -- who in his mind would forever be a boy -- was single. He happened to live a short distance away from my mother. And there was a girl he had his eye on. One Valentine's Day I saw him in a long-sleeved shirt with a tie, a change from his normal working attire with a bunch of flowers, which he held beside his bag and badly folded copy of the Daily Telegraph. He was on his way to a date. And then he disappeared from view. Some months later I learned why.
His neighbors in a public housing development finally called emergency services after noticing his apartment, though lit, never had anyone come in and out of its doors. The paramedics found him long dead in his bed, cause of death unknown. His television set was still going.
It is the suffering of the children that most makes us question the existence of God. Al-Qaeda's attack on a pet market in Baghdad, which disproportionately killed pets and children raise the question of why the world is so cruel to its most innocent, unless it were cruel in itself. Fyodor Dostoevsky, in considering the Problem of Evil, tells the story of sadistic tradesman who whipped an overloaded donkey across his eyes. His description of how the poor animal struggled forward, stumbling sideways at once encapsulates the character of evil and of innocence. How can a world in which there is cruelty to donkeys and children be one in which there is hope? It's understandable that soldiers should die. But why, why should the children and the pets die for a few column inches of newspaper propaganda space?
The only possible answer lies in the generosity of love. In its inextinguishability. A young man considering a family asked me once what the hardest thing about having children was. I answered that it was knowing your child was mortal and that you could not protect him from the hurts of the world. It's that feeling of helplessness that keeps parents awake at night. But as the child grow into a man, by some miracle the perceptions become mutual. If you asked a young man what his greatest fear was, he might reply it was the knowledge that someday his parents would die. One of the most interesting scenes in Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ occurs when Mary sees Jesus stumbling under the Cross on His way to Calvary, and Mary for a moment sees Him as the child He was, falling by the wayside. She rushes forward but then she reaches Him, He turns the tables, and the Child becoming the Parent and says, "See Mother, I make all things new!". He would save the world to save His mother.
When one day my son grew old enough to realize that I would someday die he asked what heaven would be like. I told him I did not know, but told him what I believed: that for as long as we did nothing infamous, shameful or evil that naught could keep us apart. And that was our pledge on the way to school: that we would strive to remain worthy of each other. And that is the pledge we renew each day; a pledge that is made each day by fathers who walk in the rain to buy a loaf bread and a bottle of milk from the local gas station or the men who are even striving now to find the killers of the parakeets and the children. We strive to keep away the darkness with the fragile screen of love.
The odds don't matter. It's what we believe we must do. But faith requires memory. It needs us to remember the retarded young man boarding a bus, with his bouquet of flowers and tabloid newspaper long after his apartment has been cleared out; it requires that we never forget the smiles of those who delighted in goldfish and cats and dogs in that instant before a temporary darkness came. It requires we believe that no act of courage is ever forgotten, no gesture of love is ever futile, that not a sparrow falls to earth without the stars weeping. That our lives are a flower whose blossom we have not yet seen. This is who we are; and al-Qaeda shall not prevail.