I recently helped organize a panel discussion at Indiana University about news media coverage and framing of Islam and Muslims. Our featured speaker was my friend Arsalan Iftikhar. You may know Arsalan as the Muslim American asked, live on air, whether he supported ISIS by CNN's Don Lemon.
The question proving the need for our panel discussion.
About 142 people, a combination of students, academics, and Bloomington community members, filled the room.
It was a great conversation. I'm proud we were about to pull it off. You can read about it on The Media Schools' website.
Here's a portion of my contribution to the discussion.
Pennington said that young Muslims on Tumblr are frustrated because, despite the fact many of them were born in the country in which they reside and they speak the native language, they feel excluded.
I woke up this morning and saw a story a friend had posted on Facebook. With it was this photo and I thought, "What a beautiful family."
And then I read the headline.
A little after 5 yesterday afternoon a 46-year-old man walked into the home where these three young people -- 23-year-old Deah Shaddy Barakat, 21-year-old Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and 19-year-old Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha -- lived and shot and killed them.
Shooter Craig Stephens Hicks is an avowed atheist whose Facebook page is full of condemnation of all religion.
I don't think it was an accident Hicks chose a Muslim family to attack. Neither does Twitter. If you explore the hashtag #ChapelHillShooting -- the victims all lived in Chapel Hill, NC -- you'll find a community of individuals mourning the loss of bright, young lives.
They are also castigating the mainstream media for the lack of coverage of what clearly seems to be a hate crime.
On Monday I was part of a panel at Indiana University, where I am a PhD candidate, focused on media and Muslims. Our featured speaker, Arsalan Iftikhar, pointed out that there's no group Americans feel less comfortable with than Muslims. Another panelist, IU professor Nazif Shahrani, pointed out that's partly the result of the fact that academics, policymakers, lawmakers, and journalists all approach Islam and Muslims from a place of antagonism.
Before we know anything about Muslims we consider them a scary threat to everything "we" believe in.
Of course defining that "we" is becoming ever so much more problematic.
Look at that photo Deah, Yusor, and Razan. Do those three look like scary others to you? A frightening threat to all that America stands for?
Other photos showing up in new stories show Deah and Yusor (recently married) at a college football game. Razan blogged about art and photography.
They were also involved in charity, Deah reportedly volunteering with an organization that provides emergency dental care to Palestinian children.
Take a good look at that photo and any others you find. Do these three young people look scary to you?
Our society and media are complicit in their deaths. It is politically expedient for politicians, local and national, to talk about the threat of the "Islamization" of the West. There's a political industry, detailed in a book by Nathan Lean, which benefits from the manufacture and perpetuation of Islamophobia.
Piles of research have shown that news and entertainment media portrayals of Muslims are almost always negative. Those portrayals shape our understanding of what Islam is and who Muslims are. A study I co-authored showed some evidence of a linkage between media coverage of Muslims and anti-Muslim sentiment.
If you're looking for a recent example of this just look to FOX News's now infamous "Birmingham no-go zone" story as well as CNN's Anderson Cooper's repetition of this claim. That "story" is a fairy tale and yet it took far too long for FOX or Cooper to apologize.
(No one at FOX nor Cooper's program got fired over this and yet Brian Williams is out of a job because of a lie about covering the Iraq war?)
All of this, political discourse and media discourse, creates a social environment in which every Muslim is suspect because of their faith.
For the last year I've been conducting my dissertation research on the way young Muslims use Tumblr. The majority of my participants are Muslims who grew up in non-Muslim majority countries, mostly in the West.
What they all want is to be accepted for who they are. They feel the impact of negative stereotypes. They have people yell hateful things at them, they deal sometimes with anonymous Islamophobic Internet creeps, they struggle finding a space where they can be themselves.
All of themselves. German Muslim. American Muslim. British Muslim. Australian Muslim.
They understand they are seen as outsiders in the countries in which they grew up and in which they live. All they want is to be able to live full lives in which both of those aspects of their identities -- the national and the religious -- can exist together harmoniously.
To quote Martin Luther King Jr., they want to be judged for the "content of their character," which has been shaped both by religion and by where they live.
These aren't scary others.
And neither were Deah, Yusor, or Razan.
Nazif Shahrani at the panel Monday raised the point that we are going to be trapped in the current status quo when it comes to Muslim-non-Muslim understanding because "violence begets violence." And I would add that hate begets hate.
We should all be outraged about what happened yesterday in Chapel Hill. This hate crime should be a major story.
And yet I heard nothing about it yesterday. The first stories I saw about it this morning were in newspapers in the United Kingdom.
My one hope is that the attention the deaths of Deah, Yusor, and Razan is getting in social media will somehow shame the mainstream news media into covering this tragedy.
But part of me is worried what that coverage will look like given the news media's track record when it comes to covering stories about Muslims.
At some point media has to stop perpetuating stereotypes that fuel hate. I don't know if the Chapel Hill Shooting will be that point, but I certainly hope so.
(Since I finished writing this, a number of American media outlets have picked up the story. Now it remains to be seen how it's covered.)
I'm not sure if you've ever come home to a flooded house, but it is not the most delightful experience.
Last Thursday, after celebrating some good news and enjoying a rare day off together (we just puttered around a bookstore and Best Buy) my husband and I came home to an inch of water in the downstairs of our home. Luckily for us we were not the culprits in this mini-deluge -- our next door neighbors had turned off their heat before going home for winter break and a pipe burst.
Opening the door to standing water in my kitchen, I assumed our dishwasher had somehow exploded. Then I walked into our hallway. And then the living room.
Thursday, by the way, happened to be the coldest day of the winter so far. Thinking back on our discovery all that runs through my head is Kurtz muttering "The horror! The horror!"
Action Rosemary did not cry, instead she went into swoop mode and began pulling things out of closets, getting stuff shoved into garbage bags, figuring out what important things might be lost.
Most of our stuff sits on shelves off the floor so we've mostly lucked out. But there are a number of things that are gone.
Shoes. An area rug. Some guest bedding. All of it, largely, replaceable. The most dear thing ruined was a Christmas tree a much younger Sofia made years ago.
Sitting in two white fabric totes under my couch, however, were years worth of National Geographic magazines. In my kitchen are five fabric grocery bags I'd been working on finding a place for after rearranging the shelves in my living room.
Everything in the totes and the grocery bags was destroyed.
It's the books and the magazines that have upset me most, angered me most.
Growing up, reading was an adventure; an escape. A treat was going to the used bookstore and picking up old issues of National Geographic for 25 cents a pop and spending long afternoons pouring over the pages. I read so voraciously as a kid that I never had enough books.
Having those National Geographics under my couch made this apartment, made the transitory life of a graduate student, seem stable. They gave me a sense of comfort that I can't explain.
The books? Well, they're my brain. I have an incredibly terrible time letting go of books. Which is why I have seven bookshelves in my house and still not enough space for all the books I own. (Moving at the end of July is going to be terrible.)
We have renter's insurance. So the last several days, as we wait for the industrial fan and dehumidifier to dry out our house, we've been working on a list of things we lost -- not in the fire, Bastille -- but in our mini-flood.
I have been a grumpus about it.
It feels weird, to be making a list of things we own and attempting to assign monetary value to them. Some insurance person (who has been very nice) is going to look over our list and ultimately decide what had real value. Value worth reimbursing us for.
It's all valuable.
The blankets I've had for years. The pink and neon green sneakers hoofed me all over Germany and Brussels. The books are battered and torn from being dropped in the bath or read in the rain while waiting for the bus to campus. The Christmas tree artwork had somehow managed to survive several Christmases and a very rambunctious Sofia.
Nothing I lost has any real monetary value, at least not in the grand scheme of things. The value they hold is all related to what they helped me do, how they helped me pass the time, how they made me feel.
So, instead of making a list of things lost and their value I am drinking wine and counting my lucky stars that we only had an inch of water in our house.
And maybe plotting my revenge. No one destroys my National Geographics!
I hate Thursday mornings. For me, they've always been worse than Mondays. It's like a temporal fake-out for me -- I wake up, think it's Friday but, no, it's Thursday.
And then, I started listening to Serial.
Don't know what Serial is? (Have you been living under a rock?) You can find the details at the website -- the basics are that it is a piece of audio documentary journalism told in 12 episodes as a podcast. The story is centered on the murder of an 18-year-old high school girl, Hae Min Lee, 15 years ago, but its focus is the ex-boyfriend who was convicted of the murder.
The story deals with xenophobia, racism, and Islamophobia. It touches on issues of memory and on the reliability of eyewitnesses. It explores the US justice system.
And it's really, really good.
I worked for years in public radio before going back to grad school and Serial is the type of reporting, the type of production, I had hoped to one day be able to produce.
It's not perfect. What is? There have been a number of criticisms leveled at it -- it's been accused of being an example of "white reporter privilege" as well as being exploitative and sensationalist.
I teach journalism ethics. I was unaware of the podcast until the first episode had come out and spent much of the fall semester trying to find ways of working it into my class.
There's just so much there.
Just the content of the podcast alone has so much material to fuel class discussions.
In addition to the conversation surrounding memory and the way minorities are treated in media (and society at large) there is the way reporter Sarah Koenig inserts herself at times into the story, creating a feeling of transparency that often leaves you wondering just how much distance she's been able to put between herself and the story.
She worked on the podcast for more than a year. I worked on a more straightforward radio documentary about the AIDS epidemic in Alabama for a year and I will tell you right now, when you are stewing in research and interviews that long, it's sometimes difficult to see where the story ends and you begin.
There's also the issue of truth. One of the mandates of the profession is to "seek the truth and report it." My ethics class spends a lot of time discussing what truth is, what it means journalistically, and what it means more broadly. We also spend a lot of time discussing how who we are as people impacts the way we interpret what is true.
Truth -- what it is, what it isn't, and what it could be -- is constantly being debated, chewed on, and spit out in Serial.
There's also the relationship with sources that can provide a lot of fodder for class discussions.
The reporter-source relationship is among the most important in the profession. If your sources don't trust you, if you can't trust them, then you cannot do your job.
Serial came about, in part, because a woman brought the story to Koenig. Rabia Chaudry is a family friend of Adnan Syed, the man who was convicted of killing Hae Min Lee. Chaudry asked Koenig to look into the story because she felt Syed was innocent and never got a fair trial.
One of the questions my students and I discussed this fall was, "How do you navigate the source-reporter relationship when the source brings you the story and so clearly has an idea of what she thinks you'll find?"
Chaudry, by the way, has been writing about Serial on her blog, Split the Moon. If you've been following the podcast you should check it out.
That, though, brings me to another thing that has been so fascinating about Serial (especially for someone who once worked in public radio and hoped her stories would get a fraction of the attention this podcast has gotten).
It has spawned so much media -- both social media and mainstream media -- attention.
There's a Serial subreddit where people discuss theories and debate the character of various people who appear in the podcast. Slate has been covering the podcast extensively at its site. A search for #serial on Twitter turns up countless tweets from academics, media critics, as well as podcast fans.
It's absolutely wonderful that a piece of longform reporting is getting so much attention. But, my students and I wondered, how does that impact the journalism?
The podcast caught me unawares this fall. Much of my integration of Serial into my ethics class was done as aspects of the reporting related to what my students and I were discussing and reading.
This spring I plan to devote a chunk of time to it -- at least a week, maybe two depending on whether I can get some Skype dates worked out -- because of all the reasons I mentioned above.
Many of my students, after listening to the assigned first episode, continued listening to Serial every Thursday. It caught their attention and I want to harness that in my class because I think discussion of real world examples, especially when those examples come from things students are actually interested in, can help make abstract concepts much more concrete.
And, selfishly, it gives me a reason to listen to the series from start to finish again.
I've been thinking a lot about labels lately. How we define ourselves, the groups and organizations we claim affinity with when we define ourselves, who we are saying we don't belong with when we claim an identity.
It's a thread that runs through a lot of my dissertation research so I think I'm hyper-aware of labels at the moment. Also, coming from a multiracial, multicultural background issues of labeling and identity have always resonated strongly with me.
What has been catching my eye of late are the labels "extremist" and "moderate." Those, of course, appearing in news stories about Muslim communities and various conflicts around the world.
I have huge issues with both those labels. Whenever I see them in a headline or news story or I hear them come out of the mouths of reporters or pundits I yell "Who says they're extremist? Who's deciding who's moderate?"
Who gets to decide? Who gets to craft label definitions?
When labels are applied from outside a group or community they serve to muffle and obscure the lived realities of the groups being labeled. It robs individuals of the ability to decide for themselves who they are. It can muffle people and robs them of power.
So Muslims are seen as irrational and violent and unmodern because, centuries ago, colonizing powers decided that framing would best serve the cause of imperial expansion. Muslims are treated like a threat and not seen as woven into the fabric of the places in which they live.
A few years ago, when I was in Germany, I spent some time talking to young Muslims whose families had come from Turkey. The young people had been born in Germany. In Berlin, in fact. They had grown up speaking German along with Turkish, taking the U-Bahn around the city, trying to carve a space for themselves that could be both Muslim and German or Turkish and German.
And, yet, historic framings of Muslims as scary, irrational others threw up barriers for these young people. Media representations in which Turks in Germany were portrayed as criminals or uneducated or underemployed only served to highlight their assumed outsider status.
All those kids wanted was to be seen as German, too. Berlin was in their blood, but they felt as though their lived experiences were never going to be seen as valid. Or as really German.
I don't know if I have any answers, really. I keep turning this issue of identity, of label, over in my head and think I've worn it smooth like a stone but I've not had any great epiphanies.
I keep going to back Umberto Eco's discussion of belonging and identity in "Inventing the Enemy." (It's not that he's necessarily said anything new on the subject, but I think the lyrical way he discusses things just stays with me.)
We need an enemy, he says. "Enemies" help us define more clearly who we are. All those porous, amoeba like edges of our identities become more rigid when we feel threatened. When there's not an obvious enemy, well, we invent one.
So that Muslims, immigrants, feminists, anyone whose life experience or life story seems different from ours becomes an "other" against which we define ourselves. We latch onto that which seems most different, most threatening, and reduce our "enemy" to little more than a cardboard caricature. We define them and give them little to no room to resist that definition.
For those along the coasts, those of us living in Middle America become unthinking masses who don't critically engage with our worlds. For those outside the region, Appalachia becomes little more than a third world country that needs saving. For those who have never stepped inside a mosque or ever had interaction with a Muslim person, Islam becomes a religion of intolerance and violence.
The labeling of people as moderate or extremist, as conservative or liberal, as whatever it happens to be, does little more than propagate stereotypes. And we get stuck. Having the same "debates" and "conversations" without discourse or society ever really moving forward.
Or it at least feels that way.
As I said, there's no epiphany here. I've had no eureka moment.
All I can do is ask is that when you hear a particular label being wielded in a conversation, to stop and question why it's being used, how it's being used, who's using it, what they gain from using that particular label and not another.
Don't swallow whole whatever it is you're being served.
My family spent last weekend at a comic con in Chicago. It was not the first con I've been to, but it was the first time I was there for an entire weekend. We arrived Friday and left Sunday not a moment too soon.
The trip was a birthday/Christmas gift to our daughter. We're not quite sure where we're going to be in the next year and once I learned Matt Smith was going to be there attending seemed like a no-brainer.
Sofia is an enormous Doctor Who fan and Matt Smith is the 11th Doctor. Though she enjoys David Tennant's run as 10 I think, for her, 11 will always be her Doctor and Amy Pond (played by Karen Gillan) will always be her favorite companion. (Gillan was also at the con this weekend.)
So, we bought fancy passes that got us photos and autographs with both Smith and Gillan. My kid was over the moon. I was also feeling pretty awesome that we'd been able to do this for her. She's 11, in that strange place between little kiddom and the teenage years, and it feels like a good time to have done this for her.
We didn't only go for meet and greets, however. One morning we went to a panel featuring Tom Cook -- a former Filmation animator. He worked on He-Man and She-Ra and we learned a lot about the animation process and how cartoons come together. My daughter thinks she might want to be an artist one day so I think it was cool she got to see what a love of art could lead her to down the road.
Another panel featured Joel Hodgson, creator of MST3K, riffing on his life and talking about what went into the creation of the program. (Did you know he was a kid magician? Or that he wrote for a Seinfeld stand-up special pre-NBC's Seinfeld show?) My husband introduced Sofia to MST3K years ago and Tom Servo makes her laugh so it was a pretty big deal when they got Hodgson's autograph later because she got to "meet" Tom Servo.
During Hodgson's riffing of himself he talked about his struggles as a kid to get things right. Eventually, though, he learned that mistakes were just a part -- an important part -- of the creative process. That was something my daughter needed to hear. She plays violin, trombone, and drums in addition to creating visual art. Sofia's always struggled to get things right. I remember a few years ago her in tears as she tore up another page because she couldn't get a drawing to look the way she wanted.
She wanted everything to be perfect the first time.
Hearing from Joel Hodgson, this person who created a show and characters she enjoys, that messing up is okay was pretty huge. (And maybe a lesson for all of us?)
Another great thing about comic cons is, of course, the cosplay. Friday afternoon Sofia chased down a pretty amazing Iron Man cosplayer so she could have her photo taken with her/him. There were, of course, a lot of Doctors and several Groots from Guardians of the Galaxy.
The preteen and teen years are such a difficult time -- so fraught as you try to figure out who you are and where you fit. Seeing all these individuals embracing their love of movies or comic books or novels (I did see one Sansa Stark) I hope will have a positive impact on my daughter. Show her it's okay to love the things you love, it's okay to be who you feel you are.
That's not to say everything was roses and rainbows. Our special passes meant we spent a lot of time in line with other people with special passes. Most of them were nice. Saturday, waiting to meet Karen Gillan, I even chatted with a rather wonderful River Song and her children dressed as the Doctor and Amy. There were some, though, who certainly felt a sense of entitlement that was ... unbecoming. I'll just leave it at that.
The competitive "let me show you how much bigger a fan I am than you are" was also something hard for me to swallow. That reared its head in a few places, including Sunday morning's Q&A with Smith and Gillan.
By the time we got in the car Sunday I was ready to go home to my cats. The noise of that many people was just overwhelming. Standing in line for hours on end (3 to have photos with Gillan Saturday night after she got in late) with other fans as we all grew increasingly grouchy and frustrated was no fun.
Don't get me wrong, I had a great weekend. We all did. I think we just, to quote some friends, had "too much birthday."
P.S. I am no scholar of fandom but this weekend really made me wish I was. There's just so much there.
[In the fall of 2012 I went to work with a friend. I spent 12 hours shadowing her as she went about her duties. She's a funeral director in the DC metro area and that day with her changed my life. This is what I wrote afterward.]
"Are you ready?"
What I should have said was no or I don’t know or never.
I said yes.
Jen and I were standing in front of a big silver door my brain refused to believe was a freezer. She opened it and the first thing I saw was a sharp beaked nose, then a quilt, and, finally, socked feet. I don’t think I said anything as I looked at the five or six bodies inside.
"You okay, Ro?" she asked as she closed the door.
Jen asked me that all day long, the whole time I shadowed her at the funeral home. Each time I answered, “Yes, I think so.” But I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t sure what I felt at all.
Death is overwhelming. Death in such abundance is even more so.
I thought I understood what I was getting into when I got the go-ahead to go to work with her. I’ve seen death. I’ve been to funerals. This though, this was something different.
When we’d first arrived, Jen had given me a tour of the upstairs part of the funeral home, the part you and I have seen. The chapel. The visitation area. All the secret passages that allow the employees to get around unseen. The casket show room.
Then we walked down a flight of stairs and into a room with a couch. Then into the garage where there was casket after casket lined up between vans. Then that freezer.
There was another freezer. This one held bodies bound for Arlington Cemetery — apparently if you want to be buried there you’re in for a months long wait.
The room I was not prepared for — well, I wasn’t prepared for any of it — but the room that almost made me run screaming for my life was the embalming room.
"Are you ready?" Jen asked again.
She opened the door and the first thing my eyes landed on were the large tanks the embalming fluid goes into. And then … then I realized there were three people in there.
"I’m really happy with how she turned out," Jen said as she ran her hands through one elderly woman’s beautiful white hair.
I lightly ran my fingers through it, too.
"You can touch her," Jen said.
And so I did.
I’ve touched other bodies. My Papaw’s, my grandmother Rosita’s, the body of the track star who died while I was in high school.
The night before Jen's roommate, Adam, had told me I had to poke the bodies.
"You’re a writer," he said, "You need to have that experience. You can’t go and not touch anyone."
What struck me about the old woman was how strange her temperature was. Not cold, but not warm.
"Room temperature," Jen said as she busied herself prepping a body to go into a box to be, basically, airmailed to Maine.
The woman also felt sort of waxy. Not like a candle. Or anything else I’ve ever touched. But waxy is the best way I can describe it.
After I got over the shock of being so close to all these dead I helped Jen finish boxing up the Maine woman and then watched as Jen began to prep another person.
"He’s being cremated, so he won’t get the full treatment, but we still need to make sure he looks good."
I helped her move him from a stretcher onto a table and watched as she made sure his eyes and mouth stayed closed.
Can I tell you how strange it is to watch this person you love, this person so filled with life, sew someone’s mouth shut and glue his eyes closed? How strange it is to watch as she fluffs eyelashes and considers the man’s lips the way an artist considers an easel?
"Lips are my thing. I really try to make sure they look good."
Although the only thing that really bothers her, that makes her queasy when it comes to her job, are the mouths.
"Everybody has their thing," she said as she sewed the old man’s mouth shut. "Mine’s mouths. And dentures? Ew…"
Somewhere in this process she began to work to break rigor (rigor mortis) in the corpse. It looked like she was trying to help the old guy do yoga. At the time I was standing in the doorway, in scrubs, watching.
"Throw on some gloves," she said, "Come help."
For a moment I thought, “No way.”
Instead, I said, “Okay.”
I put on a pair of tight blue rubber gloves and stood on the other side of the man’s body.
"Take his arm and move it back. You want to work on the joints. Move his arm up and you should feel his arm release."
I took his arm in my hands, took a deep breath, and began to push. It felt a little stiff and then, suddenly, I felt something slip. My shock must’ve registered on my face.
"Cool, huh?" Jen asked.
"Yeah," I said, "Really cool."
I did the same thing for the man’s elbow and wrist.
What a strange thing, to hold a dead stranger’s hand in your own. This thing, hand holding, a sort of intimate experience, one that binds you to another living person, becomes passé when the hand is cold and can’t squeeze back.
Once rigor was broken we could get him dressed and then we put him on a lift so he could be set up in a visitation room.
"What do you think?" Jen asked me as she lit a cigarette, having earned a break.
"I don’t know," I said. "They just seem so small."
"Yeah. I mean, obviously they’re not. But that thing that gave them life, that energy that animated them, it’s gone. They seem small; shrunken. They’re not people anymore."
"They’re not people anymore," she repeated as she took a puff.
"That thing that made them people is gone. I mean, they’re still people to all those who loved them, but that thing that made them them … it’s gone."
It was about this time Jen got a phone call.
"Want to see a hospital morgue?" she asked me after hanging up.
The hospital morgue was a disappointment. After having spent my morning hanging out in a room of dead people, to walk into an empty morgue just to pick up a bag in a freezer was a bit of a letdown.
The letdowns were over when we got back. Jen unzipped the bag and immediately zipped it back up.
"Fuck," she said, "It’s a full donation."
I had no idea what that meant at the time, but as she called upstairs for backup, I knew it couldn’t be good.
(I will tell you right now, I fully intend on donating all the useful bits of me I can when I finally go. Not skin, though. I would like to keep my skin.)
Jen’s coworker came downstairs and they began to unzip the bag.
"Anytime you need to walk out of here, you do it, Ro," Jen said as the bag revealed what had, till now, been shrouded in white plastic.
I will spare you the gory detail, but I will tell you they took everything they could. Muscle. Skin. Long bones.
And the woman, who’d apparently died of an asthma attack, had a breathing tube still down her throat. Which Jen had to pull out.
They spent several hours working on her. It would take them a second day to get her into visitation shape. But what they did was magic. Magic aided by science, but magic just the same.
I had stepped out for a moment as they began the embalming that would affect her face. (Usually embalming is done through just one artery and it circulates to the whole body; they could not do that with this woman and had to target embalm her.)
I came back in and the transformation was amazing.
When Jen'd first pulled the morgue bag away from the woman's face, her eyes had been open -- wide and staring -- and there had been that breathing tube in her mouth. Her face had been gray and slack. Upon my return her mouth and her eyes had been closed and now her face had a slight pink tinge. It was not the flush of life, but it was not as alien as that other color.
"You know, we have to get the body done right but what I really care about are the face and the hands," Jen’s coworker said. "The face and the hands are what the family sees. I want that to be right for them when they see her for the last time."
What she said echoed in a way what Larry, the funeral home groundskeeper, had said earlier as we’d prepped the Maine woman for her trip.
"I care about my people," he said after making sure all her things -- a string of pearls, some costume jewelry -- were in the box with her.
These are people’s mothers and fathers and children and siblings and partners. And, yet, in the most inglorious moment of their time above the ground, we trust them to someone else. Someone else dyes their hair blue and green, someone else massages cream into their faces to keep them from drying out, someone else makes sure she’s wearing her long strand of pearls and flowered screw on earrings.
In death we trust those we love to complete strangers, expecting them to make our loved ones look the way they did in life.
It’s a strange thing to expect, no?
I was talking to a journalist friend about this over brunch (I am a delightful companion) and he said to me, “I don’t think I want a visitation; I don’t think I want people looking at me.”
But, ultimately, it’s not about the dead. It’s not about their expectations or wants or needs.
I know I’m not an expert, but I will tell you they have no expectations. They’re dead.
It’s all about ours. It’s about our need for closure and our need to say goodbye. Our need to see our loved one that last time.
Our need to know it’s real. To know that death is real.
And here are people, people full of life and stories of their own, worrying over whether someone’s daughter’s hands look right. Worrying over whether the blue and green stripes are going to turn out. Worrying over whether grandma looks like grandma.
Every day, this is what they do. They surround themselves with death — and sometimes awful death — in order to give us comfort. In order to give us that closure. That time to say goodbye.
"How are you?" Jen asked as we finally drove home.
"I don’t know," I said. "But I’m good. I’m processing."
"Yes," I said.
One of the outcomes of Indiana University's Framing the Global project is a series of books exploring various aspects of "the global."
The first book -- Framing the Global: Entry Points for Research -- came out in May. It features a chapter from each of the Framing the Global fellows which explains their particular research perspective.
The book was published by Indiana University Press (all the books in the series will be). You can buy it here.
I'm in the process of putting together teaching resources at our website that are connected to specific book chapters. There will also be a section (eventually) designed to help educators think about how to teach the whole book.
I started work on the project just as I began working on my dissertation and it's been interesting, and enlightening, to have access to the ideas and approaches the book discusses.
Other books in the series should be rolling out in the not too distant future.