Let’s tell the truth. When we first heard of yet another terrorist attack in Western Africa it received a “here we go again” reaction. No shock. No surprise. No anything until we started seeing the numbers of innocent lives lost. In the early hours of the news coverage the numbers were in the teens. But after a while that number climbed past 100 and we all started taking it very seriously. When it comes to terror, ever since 9/11 it seem the number has to get past 100 for the world to start taking it seriously as a major news event. It’s a terrible thing to say because as human beings we like to believe that we grieve the loss of any and every innocent. But when it’s an incident in a far-off land, especially in the so-called developing world, our standards for shock tend to change. And sometimes numbers are not enough. Facts are not enough. Sometimes we need to see pictures.
There was one that I saw that put a crocodile bite on my conscience. It was a picture of a classroom or study hall at the Garissa University. There were chairs and desks - just as there are in any classroom. But in this classroom, many were knocked over, and in this classroom there was nobody sitting at their desks. And it was clear that those who had been sitting in them were dead, their bodies strewn along the floor like toys that are discarded by children. But these weren’t toys. They were human beings, and there was one more thing that was difficult not to observe. Pools of blood were everywhere. This was a massacre we were looking at, plain and simple and horrible.
The first words that popped into my mind were “These were human beings. Their lives mattered to someone. They need to matter to everyone.” And so while viewing the most horrifying of violent events, mass murder, a tweet was born inside my brain. I wanted the world to see what I just saw and feel what I was feeling. And so I took that terrible picture from the terror scene and I tweeted the following, “
#KenyaAttack This happened to 147 human beings at a school in Kenya. If u think the world needs to know, re-tweet.“ Little did I know that my simple 22 words would be seen by millions of eyeballs and re-tweeted over and over and over again in multiples of thousands every few hours. They continue to be re-tweeted while you are reading this.
I can’t remember how old I was when I first heard someone say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” But it’s crystal clear that has always been and always will be true. While most of us are not related to the victims of the Garissa University massacre, all of us feel connected to one very important idea - these weren’t just numbers, they were real beings with real lives that mattered. Human life always needs to matter. We shouldn’t need pictures like the one that stopped me in my tracks, and words that stopped you in yours, to remind us of that. But unfortunately, we do occasionally need to see a picture that’s cold and bold, and absolutely terrifying. Unfortunately, we do need to have someone marry that picture to words that remind us who we are and who we are not.
We are human beings and we feel something when our fellow human beings are violated in the most unimaginable of ways. Sometimes we need to have our imaginations challenged by the ugliest of realities. 147 real human beings were at a university alive and well last week at this time, with their futures ahead of them. They had no idea their futures could be counted in hours instead of decades. What do we owe those 147 human beings? The very least that we owe them is to acknowledge that they lived. They lived and those lives mattered.
Please allow me to acknowledge my gratitude for what you are doing right now, in reading the words being offered by my human conscience connected to my human heart. Thank you for your precious time, your thoughts and your humanity.
I’m Charles Adler
Click here to view my first tweet about this horrifying, unthinkable scene.