Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Yesterday was a bad day. I was flipping through a photo magazine for a project at work when I spied a photograph that disturbed me. It was the one (I won’t link to it here, but you’ll find it easily if you Google) of a little African girl, starving, half dead, dragging herself across the dirt while a vulture stands by, waiting.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I no longer have any skin. Since Dash’s birth, I have no tolerance for suffering--of humans in general, but children most of all. So as soon as the subject of the photo registered with me, I closed the magazine and tried to forget it.

Two hours later, still overwhelmingly sad, I decided to read the accompanying article. I thought maybe there would be an explanation of how, after snapping the shot, the photographer rescued the girl and now, 20 years later, she had just completed post graduate work at Harvard and all was well. No need to be upset!

So I read. And he didn’t. Instead, he did nothing. Knew nothing of the fate of the little girl who made him famous. He killed himself later--I suppose from the shame of what he’d done (or, I guess, hadn’t). I only know a small part of the story and am scared to look for more. If I’m mistaken please set me straight.

Anyway. Yesterday was ruined for me. I know it’s ridiculous to admit, but all I did, every moment I spent alone, was cry. I cried at my desk and in the car on the way home. I couldn’t stop thinking about that baby. Her parents. Her story. I assume she died shortly after the picture was taken. I don’t know if she made it to the aid station. And my heart is broken.

And so here is where I start talking about things I don’t really know how to talk about. But I’m going to try.

I was driving home yesterday, crying and thinking about holding Dash and covering him with kisses and thanking the universe for this child and the ability to feed and comfort him; how sheer luck is the only thing that stands between the life I know and the life of that girl in the desert. I was despairing. But then, I had a flash. An image of that little girl ascending into the most cartoonish version of Heaven (clouds, blue skies) and being folded into the embrace of a giant, loving God (old, white beard, robe--apparently I get all of my religious imagery from the funny pages). And my chest opened up and I was able to take a breath for the first time in hours. I don’t know how to express in words the amount of pure comfort I got from that thought. So much that I returned to it, over and over again, all night and into today. It’s the only reason I’m not crying right now.

I’ve always had an ambivalent relationship with God. I say I believe, but quietly, I wonder. I read Joseph Campbell and I’m inspired, but if I’m honest, I’m bewildered by religious people. I tell myself that there must be more, because why else would we have any use for art? Why would we aspire? But secretly, it’s always felt like I was trying to convince myself of something.

I don’t know what that epiphany (I’m a little embarrassed to use that word, but I guess it fits) was last night. I don’t know if I really did have a joining of hearts with the God of my choosing, or if it was just a coping mechanism—my mind trying to protect itself from spiraling deeper into freefall. Either way, I think I’ll take it. I think I’m going to spend some time trying to nurture this little seedling of a relationship with a benevolent universe and its God. I’m going to take a leap of faith.


Cindy said...

I feel lucky that I have not seen that photo and I'm sorry that you had to.

I was brought up atheist and have battled with religions/higher powers/somethings/Gods/gods my whole life. I am just now starting to feel comfortable with certain things. "Comfortable"

I can't say for certain if she is in heaven. I am sure though that she has got to be in a better place than she was in when that photo was taken. And I believe deep in my cold dead heart that there will be some good that comes out of people seeing the picture that I hope to never see.

Karin Grow said...

Oh my God! The image is haunting me now. I'm curious and want to google her, but too chicken and know that I'll lose sleep tonight if I do.

See you in a couple weeks. Karin

Anonymous said...

So weird, it is sometimes like we are living a parallel existence. I just recently went through a similar epiphany, if you will. Have you read Anne Lamott's books on faith? She is amazing, she is someone who believes in Jesus but believes in the kind of Jesus that probably swore, who was imperfect and kind, and who loves ALL people. I need that, you know? I need less preaching about premarital sex and more accepting of gay marriage. It was really refreshing, and I felt afterward like I needed more of her religion.

Re: the girl in the picture. Sometimes I feel I am too sensitive for the news. It happened just the other day, when they found the body a local girl who was kidnapped five years ago. The story of how she was raped and killed broke my heart.

Sigh. It's an ugly world sometimes, I guess we have to find beauty where we can. This entire comment probably should have been an email. :)

Karin Grow said...

Oh crap Liz, I peeked! It was late and the unknowing got the better of me. I wanted to write you because I had a totally different take on the picture. Besides the fact that it was sooo soo sad, I don't blame the photographer. He showed up in her life when it was way too late. He didn't starve her or mistreat her. Feeding her would have shocked her system. She was so badly starved that really the only humane thing would be to put her out of her misery. This may sound harsh, but I wouldn't allow my own dog to live like that. If I were to blame someone, it would be her mom and dad, her community or tribe. They are the ones who let her down and let her suffer. Having her picture taken like that means that she didn't die in vain. Exposing these injustices hopefully fueled more aid to her country and helped other children under the same circumstances. It sucks to know there are pockets of the world where these things happen and I think if I had his job, I'd be so depressed and commit suicide too.

Anonymous said...

Your first thought was absolutely correct. If she has passed, that little girl is sitting in God's lap and He's embracing her. That's not just an image out of your imagination. It's from God. He gave you that image because that is exactly what is happening right now at this very moment. She is comforted in His loving arms. She's safe. He doesn't want you to worry anymore. He wants you to pray for the other children and people that are going through sufferings, pray for your son and yourself, that you may look to Him for the answers. The Bible is full of them. Not all, but many.

Our God is a good God. People do go through sufferings. There are so many possibilities as to why people suffer, why children suffer, why people pass on. But we won't know the truth until we get to heaven ourselves, see our God face to face and ask Him. He has all the answers. For now, we just have to be faithful and rely on Him to protect us and bless our lives.

Yes, I am a devote Christian and I love God with every fiber of my being. I cannot imagine going through life without that hope and faith that there is something better beyond this crooked world. I've been through so many ups and downs in my life. It's so wonderful to know that God is holding my hand through it all.

Art and beauty bring me joy, but it's only temporary. God's grace and love is everlasting and I would hope you'd water that seedling that you say is growing. I'd love to see it blossom.

In the meantime, I'm here.