Sunday, June 04, 2006


Is My Loss Greater Than Your Loss?

The grimmest, most tragic story to break last week was undoubtedly that of Laura VanRyn and Whitney Cerak, the two college friends involved first in a fatal bus crash and second, in a tragic mix-up which involved one family keeping vigil by the bedside of the girl they thought was their daughter Laura, who turned out to be her friend, Whitney. The pain and grief felt by both families is unimaginable, and anyone who has children and a heart must, like me, find it almost impossible to read the reports.

Read them I have, however, and what has struck me, apart from the tragic circumstances of the case, is the overwhelming emphasis that has been placed on the girls' beauty, blondeness and devotion to god. Granted, I have read only one newspaper today, but it was the Observer, and I have to say I was shocked and sickened by the tone of their coverage, which I imagine was echoed throughout the rest of the press.

The fact that these young women looked strikingly similar was clearly what caused the mix-up, and therefore the story. Because let's face it, thousands of young people are killed every day in tragic accidents and hardly make news at all, even at a local level.

But is the fact that they were devoted christians really relevant? Or that they were beautiful, smart, blonde, well-behaved, sporty?

Is it more tragic for devoted christians to lose a child than it is for people of other religions or of none? Do the parents of a beautiful child feel that child's loss any more keenly than those of an ugly child? Would I weep more for a straight-A student than I would for for a child who struggled academically? If a fat, sedentary child dies is he mourned any less than a slim, sporty one? Is a blonde-haired girl who can trace her ancestry back to Europe worth more than a dark-haired girl who can't?

By emphasising these characteristics what is being said is yes — to all of the above.


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