Not Just One of the Statistics
written by Rachel Schlegel, Fulbright Scholar
When studying in an academic setting, it is no secret that numbers are important; they give us quantitative data to base conclusions upon. Giving statistical analysis of a conflict, in terms of death toll and economic damage is a common practice because it helps to describe the severity and extent of the violence. This allows historians to label the time period of violence. However, it is in the practice of seeking numerical understanding of a conflict that the human experience of empathy can sometimes be lost. When we were told that over 3,500 people had been killed during the troubles, we were all shocked. I remember saying a quick prayer for those who had been killed and then I continued to copy down the rest of the notes on the page. In this instance I was experiencing what one of our lecturers, Dr. Gladys Ganiel called “compassion fatigue.” She explained that we are often presented with the horrible violence that occurs in the world, yet we don’t always stop to really consider and truly empathize with those who have been affected.This summer school program went beyond the academic setting to teach each participant a very important and sometimes forgotten lesson; the pain of lives lost cannot be described by statistical analysis.
On July 15th we took a trip to the Free Derry Museum. Inside were what seemed like countless pairs of shoes with small tags tied to their laces. Confused, I walked up to the first pair that caught my eye; bright pink pumps with a small pair of shoes next to them. I read the paper attached and immediately felt tears welling up. These were the shoes of Colette Doherty and her unborn child who were killed during what is known as Bloody Sunday. Each pair of shoes on the floor of the museum symbolized a life lost and the vacancy felt by the victim’s loved ones. These empty shoes symbolize so many futures that were cut short by violence, and the absence of justice in relation to the killings. This moment highlighted the fact that each day is a gift and each life is invaluable; while further serving to show to the importance of peace-building, not only in Northern Ireland, but throughout the world.