Saturday, February 25, 2012

Martyr still means witness

Although there are lots of obits I found interesting this week, I keep thinking about Marie Colvin, a war correspondent killed in Syria.  First of all, doesn't she look ferocious?  She lost an eye covering hostilities in Sri Lanka in 2001.  That sounds like plenty to retire on, but she kept going and going. God knows there's been plenty of work for war correspondents in the past decade.

After reading more about her, the fact that she kept going despite the loss of an eye seems even more resonant.  She was resolute about the fact that she her calling as a journalist was to bear witness. How...terribly appropriate that her attacker almost blinded her.  And that as long as she had an eye to see, she kept going.

There's a beautiful reflection on her life and work in the New Yorker, which directed me to an address she gave in 2010 at service "to commemorate and honour those journalists, cameramen and support staff who have died while covering the conflicts of the 21st Century."  In it she said,
Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction, and death, and trying to bear witness. It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash. And yes, it means taking risks, not just for yourself but often for the people who work closely with you...Our mission is to report these horrors of war with accuracy and without prejudice. We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado?... 

In an age of 24/7 rolling news, blogs and twitters, we are on constant call wherever we are. But war reporting is still essentially the same - someone has to go there and see what is happening. You can't get that information without going to places where people are being shot at, and others are shooting at you. The real difficulty is having enough faith in humanity to believe that enough people be they government, military or the man on the street, will care when your file reaches the printed page, the website or the TV screen. 

We do have that faith because we believe we do make a difference.
[Emphasis mine]

I have been thinking ever since of the value of having a witness, someone who has seen with her own eyes what is happening and who takes the time to tell others about it.

Too often, I think, in our religious lives or in politics, we spend our time creating or conforming to the right propositions or theories as opposed to reporting on our experiences.  Like I'm doing right now, for example!  But I'm reminded by this that we are called to be witnesses for the gospel, not propagandists.

Living faithfully is not about acquiescing to the theoretical; it's about what we do and who we meet and what happens then. And the first meaning of martyr is not someone who is killed for what they believe, but someone who witnesses to what they believe. What do we see? And what do we say about it?

Colvin was a witness until moments before she died.  The Guardian, reporting on Colvin's death, wrote
Colvin used a web forum to make what is believed to be her last post on Tuesday. "I think the reports of my survival may be exaggerated," she wrote. "In Baba Amr. Sickening, cannot understand how the world can stand by and I should be hardened by now. Watched a baby die today. Shrapnel, doctors could do nothing. His little tummy just heaved and heaved until he stopped. Feeling helpless. As well as cold! Will keep trying to get out the information."
She and photographer Remi Ochlik were killed shortly thereafter when the house where they were staying was shelled by Syrian forces.

I have no desire to be a war correspondent--absolutely none.  I'm glad others do this work.  I can't think why they do it.  But I'm still inspired by this to be a better witness of the world around me, to try to keep my mind as well as my eyes open, to not be hardened.  

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