No man, proclaimed Donne, is an Island, and he was wrong. If we were not islands, we would be lost, drowned in each other's tragedies. We are insulated (a word that means, literally, made into an island) from the tragedy of others, by our island nature, and by the repetitive shape and form of the stories. The shape does not change: there was a human being who was born, lived, and then, by some means or another, died. There. You may fill in the details from your own experience. As unoriginal as as any other tale, as unique as any other life. Lives are snowflakes - forming patterns we have seen before, as like one another as peas in a pod (and have ever looked at peas in a pod? I mean, really looked at them? There's not a chance you'd mistake one for another, after a minute's close inspection) but still unique.
Without individuals we see only the numbers, a thousand dead, a hundrednd thousand dead, "casautlties may rise to a a million". With individual stories, the statistics become people - but even that is a lie, for people continue to suffer in numbers that themselves are numbing and meaningless. Look, see the child's swollen, swollen belly, and the flies that crawl at the corners of his eyes, his skeletal limbs, will it make it easier for you to know his name, his age, his dreams, his fears? To see him from the inside? And if it does, are not doing a doing disservice to his sister, who lies in the searing dust beside him, a distorted distended caricature of a human child? And there, if we feel for them are they now more important to us than a thousand other children touched by the same famine, a thousand other young lives who will soon be food for flies' own myriad squirming children?
We draw our lines around these moments of pain, and remain upon our islands, and they cannot hurt us. They are covered with a smooth, safe, nacreous layer to let them slip, pearllike, from our souls without real pain.
Fiction allows us to into slide these other heads, these other places, and look out through other eyes. And then in the tale we stop before we die, or we die vicariously and unharmed, and in the world beyond the tale we turn the page or close the book, and we resume our lives.
A life that is, like any other, unlike any other.