Memory is a wonderful thing on the whole and I look forward to not losing mine for a while yet, but just occasionally it manifests as a kind of interior cobra, striking out of nowhere and poisoning a moment.
Watching them remove Van Nguyen's dead, sheet-clad body from Changi Prison on TV tonight I had a most unwelcome flashback to the Thredbo disaster and the recovery of Stuart Diver, alive and conscious, from the rubble and mess. Each of these two men, after many hours of tension and stress leading up to an unbearable climax, was wrapped up and gently carried away on a stretcher from the place where he had been imprisoned.
Of course I'm not making general comparisons between the two men; what each had or had not done in life is not relevant to what I'm talking about here. I'm thinking through a superimposition of similar images -- a kind of palimpsest or maybe a form of pentimento -- seen on the same little TV screen, ten years or so apart.
In the case of Diver, the great swell of emotion at the site as he was carried up the hill was to do with the huge effort that had been made to save his life. Van Nguyen's case was the opposite: the Singaporean state had gone to considerable trouble and expense to take his life away. Remembering the desperation and determination that went into the saving of Diver, and the fact that everyone involved and everyone glued to the live TV coverage was willing him to survive, united in the conviction that his death must at all costs be prevented -- remembering all that, I found the sight of Van Nguyen's neat little body in its clean white shroud to be well-nigh incomprehensible, an image that made no sense. What a vast amount of implacable political will it must require to cold-bloodedly and deliberately take a life, when every human instinct is to try to save it.