This post is part of a series recommending longform, narrative nonfiction.
I have very few words for the stories below. Each of them involve grisly deaths that are difficult to wrap my mind around. The life I live and the “problems” I face don’t compare to what the people in these stories endured and, in some cases, continue enduring.
These stories are not fun reads. They’re challenging. They’re discomforting. They’re real. They’re important.
The Wetsuitman by Anders Fjellberg, Dagbladet
Last winter, two bodies in identical wetsuits washed up on shores in Norway and the Netherlands.The ensuing investigation shed a spotlight on the refugee population in Calais, France. (This story is translated from Norwegian, so some sentences require additional deciphering.)
There have been a lot of Syrian refugee stories circulating lately. Earlier this week, people were outraged by a photo of a drowned toddler (the three-year-old’s name was Aylan Kurdi), because the photo made them uncomfortable. But there’s no outrage that these refugees — who have miraculously escaped the hellhole of their native country — are not being welcomed anywhere.
Refugees are also a reality in other parts of the world — and Syria isn’t the only place enacting atrocious crimes against humanity. In July, the New York Times published this series of articles about crimes on the high seas.
It’s scary the worlds that other people live in, while Westerners whine about slow Internet connections that keep Netflix from loading.
Two Lanes to Accokeek by Michael Graff, SB Nation
In 2008, a freak car accident on a stretch of Maryland highway infamous for street racing tore bodies apart and forever changed the lives of two young men. This piece tells the story of what did happen, what might have happened, and gently prods the question, “What if?” Satisfyingly thought-provoking.
Michael Graff is Executive Editor of Charlotte Magazine. Earlier this year, I recommended another story he wrote and, just this week, I read a piece he wrote about his father’s skydiving days. His long works almost always contain a meditative reflection on what the story communicates about the meaning of life.
Murder on the Appalachian Trail by Earl Swift, Outside Magazine
Processing death is never easy. In this piece, the author revisits his encounters with a couple that was brutally killed 25 years ago on the AT. He talks to their family members and other thru-hikers who had met them on the trail.
If you don’t find the other stories relatable, you should definitely read “Murder on the Appalachian Trail“. Swift shares how he would consider tragedies and draw comparisons between the victims and himself:
I’d never known a murder victim. Until then I’d been a typical suburban American who figured that violence usually came by invitation. I’d hear of a crime and do a little calculus to separate myself from the victim: I wouldn’t hang around a crack house. No way would I walk that street at three in the morning.
This time the math didn’t work.
It’s easy to think that bad things befall bad people, until you look at reality. The only reason you’re not a Syrian refugee is because of where and to whom you were born. You didn’t choose this, and they didn’t choose that. And regardless of any cultural, religious, ethnic, or political differences, we are all human beings made in God’s image. All of our lives are infinitely valuable no matter how challenging and discomforting the realities we live in. They are real, and they are important.