As I was struggling to fall asleep last night, I thought of this image.
It’s from Jim Brandenburg’s Chased by the Light, a now out-of-print photography set chronicling 90 days and 90 shots in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota. It includes some of the most beautiful and striking photography I’ve ever seen, and it probably created within me some kind of subconscious desire to take up photography as a hobby.
Despite all of the landscapes and loons and wolves and prettiness, this is the photo I always come back to. Day 57, a deer struck dead by poachers.
The somberness of the photo is amazing. The life still seems to be in there, fighting to stay in, slowly leaking out. The eye begins to freeze over in the cold Minnesota air. It’s the struggle for life and the quietness of death at the same time.
It got me thinking about how I often take death for granted when it occurs in a group, far away, distant from my insulated life in Sioux Falls. Ten die in a bombing in Iraq. A hundred die in an earthquake in China. Fifteen die in a plane crash in New York.
But when it’s one person – a person of whom I may only know a name – a person with a story, who makes the front page of the Times because of their connections, I see things in such stark reality. A child dies due to negligence. An acquaintance dies in a vehicle accident. An author dies of cancer.
These deaths aren’t any more meaningful than those that happened countries away, in groups. But I can identify with them. And for that reason, I feel more grief. Grief for their family, for their life and for what they’re missing in the future.
A single life is more relatable. A group of lives is simply news.
I’m not sure why my mind works this way, but I’m positive I’m not alone. We find more grief in things that we have some kind of connection to. That’s only natural. And we find more connection in an individual than a group. We find more connection in strangers who share some of the same qualities than we do in those who are distant.
Every life – and every death – may be equal in the grand scheme of things. But when they’re isolated, they seem more real.
Which is why this picture strikes me. Because it’s just that deer and me. Eye to eye. Staring death in the face, together.