Tuesday, April 24, 2007

To Know the Living

Photograph and text © 2007 by Julius Lester

Last week as I read the newspaper profiles of the 32 people murdered at Virginia Tech, I was reminded of the profiles the New York Times published of many of those killed in the attacks of 9/11. How ironic and unfortunate that I would have not known of their lives if their deaths had not been so horrific.

Each weekend my local newspaper publishes a full page profile of someone who lives in the area. Practically everyone profiled is “ordinary” in the sense that they are not known beyond their circle of friends and co-workers. Yet, each week I feel that my humanity is increased as I read of some one's life.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if local newspapers across the country, as well as national ones like the New York Times, published a word portrait each day of an “average” person?

I think we would learn that no one is “ordinary” or “average”, that so many people are living with unseen courage, with an intelligence that includes the life of the emotions as well as the life of the mind. Each day we walk past lives of quiet and ineffable beauty without knowing it.

If newspapers conveyed daily the stories of such people, perhaps we would become more aware of others, not as categories but as the miracles each of us is. With such awareness, maybe, just maybe, our daily interactions with others would become permeated with respect and beauty.


“Statistically, the probability of any one of us being here is so small that you’d think the mere fact of existing would keep us all in a contented dazzlement of surprise.”

Lewis Thomas


Beauty - Perfection affording great pleasure to the senses, or which charms the intellectual or moral faculties through inherent grace, or fitness to a desired end.

Related words: beauty-beaming, beauty-breathing, beauty-manner.


Shadows of mobiles by Alexander Calder, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.