It's funny how one thing leads to another. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the album of photographs from
Pictures such as these—and, more specifically, the experience of looking at them and pondering the implications they have for our sense of what it means to be a human being—foster a kind of "us vs. them" mentality in most of us: we were the victims, "they" were the perpetrators; we were the innocent, "they" were the guilty; we were the martyred, "they" were the murderers. There's a certain truth in that kind of thinking—we were the victims, after all—and, indeed, it's hard to imagine anyone viewing those pictures and not feeling a sense of complete antipathy towards the monsters depicted in them.
But then, it turns out, that there are also "thems" out there who are not only doing as much as we ourselves are doing to preserve the memory of the martyrs, but far more than most of us could ever claim to have done ourselves. And we need to consider them too in our thinking when we try to develop a sense of where we actually do fit into the human family.
Perhaps some of you saw the article in the Times a few days ago by Elaine Sciolino, the New York Times bureau chief in
One by one, he has been visiting the towns of the
So that puts a bit of a crimp in the "us vs. them" thing. I think about the Shoah constantly. Indeed, a day doesn't pass when the Shoah doesn't impinge in some way or another on my thinking. The ghosts of the dead are with me always, but the work this guy is doing is sacred...and it's work I don't think I could ever do as well or, even, at all. I pray that God grant him the strength to finish his work and to create a permanent, accurate registry of the unknown, unmarked cemeteries in the
And may Father Desbois inspire us all to realize that, for all it is possible for human beings to debase and degrade the divine image so totally that it becomes almost unrecognizable (as was wholly evident in those other pictures I wrote about a few weeks ago), it is also possible for human beings to bring honor to that same image by devoting themselves to holy work. Bad people are the people who do bad things. It sounds so simple when I write it out like that...but it takes the example of a man like Patrick Desbois to highlight the corollary of that thought: that good people, regardless of their nationality or their religious affiliation, are people who do good. And that there is no other reasonable definition. (October 12, 2007)