I’m not posting her picture. I’ve seen her image and the footage of her death enough already to have it cemented in my head, and I suspect that many of you have already as well. If you haven’t, and still want to chase it down, I trust that folks are skillful enough, and that search engines will guide you.
I choose a different graphic. It isn’t out of respect for delicate sympathies, it isn’t out of denigration for her sacrifice. It is chosen because there are a multitude of images that can be taken and used as symbol for this moment. I choose to commemorate this moment with its potential blossom, and its hope.
There has been some lively debate about this young woman. The crass way that CNN has robbed her death of dignity, even validity with their coverage and the ambiguity that they have hidden behind without their official stamp of “if it ain’t been seen by a journalism grad and vetted by an editor, it ain’t happened” is one arena for argument.
There is likewise a question of her being a hero to a revolution that has yet to be named, or even truly declared. There is not much question of the tragedy of her death, the reason for it, and certainly the drive to turn this young woman into a something far greater than the tragedy of a young woman cut down.
Her death has the potential to be a symbol. And a powerful one.
Symbols grow because of the emotional attachment given to them.
A flag, is a piece of cloth. The Liberty Bell, a roont piece of copper and tin. The Pope is a man with a funky hat and a LOT of folks to play fetch and carry for him. That is alone, but as symbols, they are transformed into something greater.
And sometimes, folks become symbols without a lot of effort on their own part. Something they have done, have done to them resonates and they become something else.
I am sure that this young woman was relatively decent. She probably pissed a few folks off as well. Had her good days, her bad days, maybe stepped on some toes, maybe did some really nice things. She may have been a controlling harpy of a gal, we don’t know. There will no doubt be those who will fill in blanks for us in the coming days, coming months even. Her life, and her death is going to blossom before us.
But that is beside the point, as a symbol. Symbols grow out of a need, and in this case, I suspect that she is very quickly becoming a defining moment for this particular struggle. As much as the deliberate sacrifice to be a symbol by Buddhist monks setting themselves ablaze during Vietnam, and likewise, the moment where General Nguyen Ngoc Loan points a gun at a handcuffed Vietcong prisoner in Eddie Adam’s Pulitzer Prize winning photo. These are moments that stick with people. That resonate in some way.
And these are moments that transform people to being something beyond themselves, and into symbols.
It can certainly rob folks of their humanity. We tend to idolize and gloss over these symbols. To forget that the symbol that they represent is separate than the life that person lived, and they were more than the moment that transformed them.
It is remarkably tragic that this young woman died. And her death and transformation as a symbol doesn’t rob her family and friends of her loss, nor spare them their grief. But likewise, to denigrate the moment of transformation to something greater as a symbol, as an emotional turning point for others, that robs the people of a chance to be focused, and to let them give her death some meaning.
Human beings are remarkable creatures. We process information like mad, and better we connect things like mad as well. We connect the disparate, often with the power of metaphor, forcing connections of emotion to images, to scents, to sound. We can recall that emotion with an object or even an odd phrase or strain of music, and it is as powerful in that recollection, as it was in the moment of our bonding that emotion and thought to that symbol. Neda is fast becoming symbol. She is surpassing the human, and into an airy realm, and in doing so, there is a fear, that in that transformation, that her life will become a shadow. That all that was her will disappear in the moment that her family and friends will likewise find indelible. And it is a valid fear.
That this young woman is becoming a symbol is a powerful thing. It means something to those who have connected emotion to that moment. Who have found themselves touched by that moment. Let’s not argue that she can exist both as young woman cut down–human and fragile–and as a symbol for others.