Photo by John Stanmeyer: June 2009 Issue of National Geographic

One morning while sitting at the Dr.’s office reading the June 2009 issue of National Geographic Magazine I saw a picture of a starving eight month old infant in the arms of his starving 34 year old mother. Her own malnutrition was failing to provide her breast milk with the nutrients the infant needed to thrive, or quite obviously, to survive.

The child, whose horrifically frail body was nothing but a small handful of bones, was captured in this picture in all his agony, mouth stretched wide, wailing. His eyes spoke loudly of his utter anguish. Inwardly, I too felt like wailing.

I am writing about this picture not because it is the first image of its kind that I have seen, but because something else, odd and almost grotesque, struck me about the scene.  Other than the suffering inflicted (yes inflicted by humanity, by us collectively) upon this tiny innocent, I could not miss the large beaded necklace and bracelet, so out of place, that adorned his neck and wrist bones.

There was no mention of the beads in the caption, but I could immediately SEE their meaning. Not the meaning of those colorful beads, but the meaning behind those beads. Here in these beads was the conditioned human mind fearful of the unknown and afflicted with superstition. Here was the human-created concept of a higher power, the mind enchanted by hopes. Here was an image reflecting the tragedy of our human condition: glass beads symbolizing the power of the unknown, created by the human mind reflecting their fears and hopes. Yes, human beings suffer greatly at the hands of their own unconscious minds.

Somehow, these beads made the image even more heartbreaking, more tragic, and infinitely more grotesque and repulsive to me. To me they represented the utter helplessness of mankind and all of his feeble attempts at thwarting this helplessness, at resisting it, avoiding it, denying it, and finally, his ineffective attempts at any change.

The parents know that their child is dying and in their devastation, in their own misery and helplessness they fashion these colorful symbols which have been identified as one thing or another, or perhaps which identify the child as one thing or another. “These are gifts celebrating the gift of life” the tradition might say upon the child’s birth.  Or more likely upon his imminent death, “Perhaps he can be healed by the Savior, recognized by him, pitied by Him.” Yes, the dualistic cycle of birth and death is treated as a synonym of Life and Death which are inseparable. Life and Death are not in opposition but exist as One movement walking hand in hand from moment to moment.

To me these beaded symbols looked so ugly hanging on that poor miserable child. They looked so heavy. They weighed him down who was all but nothing, already weighed down by his own frailty. They also weighed down upon me:  my mind, my heart.

Of what use are they who string beads of hope for a living? Of what use are they who buy beads of hope with their last shilling? Is hope made up of the stuff which shall nourish the dying? Perhaps those who can conceive of hopes can go another mile, but this child cannot.

This picture was taken in 2009. Somehow, I am sure, this innocent little baby boy is long gone, dead in some shallow grave. I can almost see him lying within that tiny coffin, all super humans and human saviors having abandoned him, still adorned with those beads. Once a symbol of hope for the living, these beads likely become a symbol of hope for the dead in some afterlife.

But to me these colorful beads symbolize only the walking dead – humanity as we exist with all our complexities, far from Truth, from birth to death – the ones whom that simply beautiful child leaves behind.

One Cannot Live from Moment to Moment without Dying from Moment to Moment

Jiddu Krishnamurti on what it means to DIE:


A Beautiful Poem on what it means to LIVE:
Back to Living

by Ashok Sharda

When I was away

Exhuming the dead

In my graveyard

I was being lived

By my death

When eventually I

Back to living returned

Went back to its grave

My death


Posted on 01/02/2006
Copyright © 2011 Ashok Sharda