“I watched a woman die today.” This is what I tell my husband as we are eating pepperoni pizza and watching a recorded episode of Seinfeld – part of our nightly routine. He doesn’t say anything for a while. We just stare at each other, pizza slice in hand. He can see the tears are beginning to pool on the corner of my eyes and turns off the television.
“She was beaten to death by a mob. Then burned,” I say this as I am picking at the crust of my pizza slice. I rip off small pieces with my fingers and put the baked dough on my mouth, chewing through the tears that are streaming down my face.
“There was a big crowd, mostly men, and they were cheering. There were so many of them. Standing on balconies, looking, recording. No one helped her.” I have the largest lump on my throat and have to set aside my plate to reach for a box of tissues. I had been holding this in since ten in the morning. It is seven at night.
I didn’t have to watch the video. No one in the newsroom makes us watch these things. But today, Afghanistan was under my watch and with the country came the story of this woman, a 27-year-old accused of burning the Koran. Her parents said she was mentally unstable. We were deciding what to do with this video full of horror and all the evils in our world. I pulled the clip on my computer and the moment I saw her face I couldn’t stop watching. My heart tugged at the screen wishing I could reach out to her, pull her out of the axis of that mob and give her refuge. Instead, I watched as men, so many of them, beat her with long wooden boards. They hoisted her up onto a roof and then pulled her down to the ground. They screamed things at her. They reveled in the blood covering her face. They kicked her when she was barely able to stand. I kept watching, because now I couldn’t leave her alone. Because by watching I was acknowledging the barbarity of the last minutes of her existence.
The woman didn’t survive. Towards the end of the video I watched her body burn. Whether she was still alive it was impossible to say.
The scene prompted an irrational anger in my heart. I was angry that no one helped her. That they watched on the side-lines, phones in hand, recording like it was an act in an impromptu play. And I was angry that from my chair in a newsroom in Atlanta, on the other side of the world, I couldn’t help her either. She had died alone, burned like trash on a street gutter.
When I got home I prayed. In Buddhism we have this special prayer called a mandala. It is a prayer offering everything that is beautiful and pure. Offering all the happiness and peace there is in this world – in all worlds. I made that prayer for this woman, whom I didn’t know and never would, but whose life was as precious as mine. I prayed for her happiness, wherever she may be. She didn’t have to be alone anymore.