I Watched A Man Die
I watched a man die last week. The second death I've witnessed in my short time in India. I was on my way to coaching at Football for Kids, and I was confronted by a huge traffic jam with people screaming, directing traffic, and leading a big rig off the wrong side of the road. There was a man lying in the street. A pole had fallen off the back of the truck and impaled him in the stomach. All the kids I coach saw it happen too. Once I got to the field, the children ran up to me and yelled, "Coach Shannon, Coach Shannon, we saw a man expire!"
Like in the US where we demur darkness with idioms, "to expire" is the chosen euphemism for dying in India. But the implied inevitability of the phrase makes me cringe, as if we are all spoiling milk with an appointed time to be thrown away like so much garbage.
Or maybe it implies acceptance: these things happen, we all must go on. Because if you paused every time you were faced with tragedy here, you would be paralyzed.
And I am constantly surrounded by tragedy. I've seen a man without legs crawling on his hands to beg from on-rushing cars; I've seen a four year old boy carrying his limp baby sister, pleading for water; I've seen so many things that make me want to break down. But I can't because I have to get up, go to work every day, and see it all over again.
And sometimes you feel the need to just hide from it all and take a break from reality—that was Goa for me. I joined all the Fellows in the IDEX program for a fantastic weekend of relaxation, lying on the beach, and eating spice-ridden fish curries. After a month of watching horrors on my doorstep, this felt like paradise.
One day while the group was lounging in the ocean, my exuberant friend Natalie bounded into the water yelling "Honor the Indian Ocean! Honor the Indian Ocean!" Shaun (resident encyclopedia) corrected her (and myself as well), saying we were actually in the Arabian Sea. Natalie quite wisely responded, "I suppose you are right, we are all in the same ocean, aren't we?"
Back in Goa, we laughed that sentiment away, but it hit me immediately upon returning to Pune. My Facebook feed revealed that 21 Coptic Christian Egyptians were beheaded while laying on the water's edge of the Mediterranean Sea in Libya. That same Sunday, all of the fellows were having a frivolous photo shoot on the cusp of the Arabian. And for some reason, that thought destroyed me—I started sobbing on the rickshaw ride to work.
I felt the weight of my privilege and my guilt all at once. I fritter my time and money away on self-absorption while men are being executed, women are being raped, children are starving? But don't I have a limit to empathy? Is complacency acceptable sometimes?
Still, for me, Goa was escapism—a way to block out the suffering around me. It is not in my capacity to fix the whole world, and that will continue to cause me pain when I step outside of my rose-tinted bubble. But I would rather feel it so intensely it hurts every day, than feel nothing at all.
Pain, I can live with. Apathy kills.