Any tragedy contains within itself an untold number of smaller tragedies. Already, the murder of Annie Le MED ’13 is being discussed as an attack on our most basic sense of security, as an act of violence against our city, as a savaging of the natural order. These interpretations are not incorrect, but they confuse the part for the whole. We cannot allow ourselves to forget that the ultimate tragedy of this week’s events is also the smallest in scale; the event, not its implications. When we mourn, we must mourn Annie Le.
This is not as obvious as it sounds. Many of us, myself included, did not know Le. We learned that she loved pigs-in-a-blanket from a profile written after her disappearance, not from having seen her enjoying hors d’oeuvres at parties. To us, her impending marriage was a provocative detail in her story, not the culmination of an actual love, witnessed and understood. We have no knowledge of her as she lived, we know her only in death.
Is it not almost arrogant for us to mourn her personally, when a week ago we did not know her name? Is it not better for us to come to terms with the effect her death has had on our own lives?
The answer is a resounding no. A woman is dead, a marriage destroyed, a future cut short. If we are human, we cannot escape empathy. Le’s tragedy could have belonged to any of us, our friends, our acquaintances. This is not to say that we should mourn her tragedy because she could have been us. We must mourn because she was us.
In the past few days, the name Annie Le has become detached from the woman who owned it; a woman who sat in this campus’ courtyards, who had small conversations, who was not famous until she died. To me, it seems her death is less an earthquake rending the foundation of our school and more an empty bench where she once rested.
We at Yale are constantly in danger of neglecting events for their consequences, of losing the trees for the forest. We read Langston Hughes as history, at the cost of the lightning in his words; we study the fall of the Berlin Wall as a political event and forget the individual joy felt by so many. In each case, the former interpretation is not incorrect, but it fails to truly account for the weight of what is being observed. I am not blaming professors or criticizing Yale; a curriculum based on empathy would be ludicrous. It falls to each individual to remember the human within the academic. The costs of not doing so are profound.
It would be profane to use Annie Le’s death to warn against over-intellectualization. I mean only to say that if we forget empathy anywhere, it is only natural that we develop a resistance to it everywhere.
Ultimately, we come here to learn what it is to be human, something that can be taught only by inference. In moments like this, when we come together as a community, let us come together not as Yalies or as citizens of New Haven. Let us come together as a community of human lives, the unit of which is the individual life.
Let us mourn Annie Le as Annie Le; a woman, not an idea. She walked these streets; she talked in these halls. She read these books and sat with these friends. She lived here, and she died here. Though we did not know her, we mourn Annie Le.
Ilan Ben-Meir is a sophomore in Trumbull College.