When I first read Robert Frost’s poem “Out, Out–“ about a boy getting killed in a chainsaw accident, I cringed at the final sentence: “And they, since they/ Were not the one dead, turned to their affairs.”
How could they be so calloused? I thought. That boy just died, and they “turned to their affairs”?
I now understand that we must often turn to our affairs despite tragedy or else nothing would get done. Held down, scarred over, and silenced with whiteout, our memories remain, but we move on. There’s even a sort of stoic courage there.
Egypt has resurfaced in the news as the violence worsens. As of this writing, the mainstream media has confirmed over 800 people dead since unrest began. That doesn’t count the thousands of injured. The burned churches. The torched and dismantled government buildings. The barricades. The shattered lives. The unconfirmed dead. The fear.
Another teacher I worked with reported on a blog how a priest she knows was riding in car when a man with a knife started chasing him. The fast-thinking driver saved the priest’s life.
“Today this same priest told me that priests in Egypt fear being led like sheep to the slaughter,” the teacher wrote.
It’s one image in a complicated mosaic.
“It was a hell,” a doctor said about the violence a few weeks ago. I can’t imagine what he’d say now, with hundreds dying and motorcycles carrying bodies back from front lines to makeshift morgues in mosques.
I, too, worry about the friends I made, the places I saw, the people I shook hands with. They are more than statistics. The grease and dust from their hands has washed off, but I still feel it. I still hear their stories, remember their smiles. Every update makes me think of them.
I want to mourn or fight, but I must “turn to my affairs”–so says that voice inside my head, that voice that points to all the practical, at-hand problems I must deal with: loans, money, drivers’ tests, GRE exams, messy kitchens.
I’m getting them done, but my mind is still in Egypt.