[dropcap style=”font-size:100px; color:#992211;”]T[/dropcap]here are some who believe that empathy is a weakness brought about by a naivite of the ‘real’ world: an oversensitivity caused by untested privilege.
They tend to use the word ‘snowflake’ a lot, and insist that their own point of view is valiantly earned from the school of hard knocks. Some of them go as far as to suggest gunning down refugees in their boats, or building walls across borders.
It’s telling though, how often those who have actually been through experiences of geniune suffering, tend not to dismiss those of others. Trebuchet contributor Julio Etchart recently submitted a series of Grenfell Tower images and verse with a cover note which goes some way towards contextualising his sensibilities. Empathy a weakness? We should all be so weak.
‘As you can see from one paragraph in the poem, my empathy with the victims has a history, for I was also ‘disappeared’ for months in a secret detention centre during my youth in Uruguay in the 1970s, after protesting against one of the worst Latin American dictatorships of that time. I came here as an exile, and I have a natural affinity with those who have followed a similar path.
And the tragedy of Grenfell is that many of the victims were also trying to escape a similar fate, only to end up being erased from the face of the Earth.’
– Julio Etchart
The eerie structure
haunts the clouds,
its charred skeleton
arrests the rush-hour traffic
and confuses the migratory birds
who seek a nest
amid the debris.
Exhausted neighbours resume their daily pigrimage
past a gallery of faded photographs
whose innocent faces
contemplate another day in limbo,
their drained hearts
trying to tune into
the latest episode
of this never ending saga.
decree the masonic suits
giving another turn
to this absurd
But corporate has no face
and bestows a convenient anonimity
to the real culprits;
falls so short of including
the women, children
and those of mixed gender preferences
who, along with cats, dogs and parrots
disappeared on that terrible night….
My strong empathy has a history
for I, too, was not accounted for,
during many weeks in my younger years,
forcibly hidden behind a dirty hood
in a concealed basement
in a distant corner of the world.
My comrades missed me in the barricades
which we erected
against a cruel dictatorship,
my loved ones moved heaven and earth
in the hope that I would be still alive….
They finally found me,
and freed me
and sent me into exile
to these cold islands
where decades later
I had to witness the sad irony
of seeing so many
who also came here
to escape a terrible past
or an uncertain future
finding themselves betrayed
Ashes to ashes
is written in ancient folios….
The names of the Grenfallen
are also recorded
in the Book of Life,
a memory that no one
and they will be remembered
with the dignity
that they could not find
on this side
Photos and verse by Julio Etchart. Not to be reproduced without express prior permission.
Julio Etchart is a documentary photographer, poet and artist.