A friend sent me the link to this photo from the Telegraph in the U.K. with this caption: “Children play in Tskhinvali, capital of Georgia’s breakaway province of South Ossetia”
Here’s what my friend said about it: “To be happening in a place at war makes it really shocking, but it’s just two kids doing what kids do.”
For all of the horror I feel when I see this picture, especially in its context, I just can’t convince myself that those children are less filled with delight than their eyes and faces suggest in the moment captured here. The gun and the context makes me think I should interpret the picture with horror at children playing out the dynamics they’ve seen, of people terrorizing other people. But those children’s faces won’t let me make sense of the picture exclusively in that way–as only a painful acting out of terror and trauma.
As my friend said, “…it’s just two kids doing what kids do.” I have four children, and I know that look (though it is notoriously hard to capture on camera). They’re happy and they’re freely having fun, for that moment at least, in the middle of all the craziness and horror going around them.
I live with a lot of tension. I can’t find relief, usually, in definitive answers, one side or the other, and usually I find much defensible honesty in the questions that both sides ask on any given topic I sit with tension on. Is war a necessary evil? Is unequivocal pacifism the right answer? I. Just. Don’t. Know. Fill in the extremes, the questions and the challenges of both sides on any number of tensions. And keep responding I. Just.Don’t.Know. And you have the story of much of my life.
This picture captures the horror and delights of life, all mixed together in a way that makes me want to look away. Yet, I can’t really do that. My eyes keep being drawn back to the photo. I’ve had the webpage open to it for a couple days straight now. I’ve so seldom seen a photo that really captures that free (carefree?) look of delight in children. But still. They’re looking carefree while one of them is pointing a gun at the other? While their country is at war? How to make sense of that? I can’t.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, this photo articulates very well the tensions I live with in so many areas of my life. I want things to make sense, but they don’t. I want there to be perfect answers, but even good answers to bad problems seem to bring much fallenness with them. And even the fallenness is not as miserably and perfectly and exclusively hopeless as I might sometimes like to imagine.
I can’t explain the tensions and the emotions that this photo stirs. I only know that they feel honest and real and familiar. By stirring me in such a way that anguish and delight, heart smiles and horror collide, I’m faced even more intensely than usual with the reality that the world has no easy answers, and blanket condemnations are no more helpful than pat answers.
(My Wonderful World Blog from National Geographic has an interesting read about some of the geographical realities that contribute to the Georgia conflict being more complex than it can seem on the surface).