Iraq: Ghosts

Baghdad is certainly safer now, but the scars of war are still raw. This afternoon I ran into a man I had not seen for more than three years, a clerk at a hotel I used to stay in. As we reminisced about crazy days in 2005, he suddenly mentioned that he had lost his son in crossfire in 2006.

He put his eyes down and began to fidget nervously.

"I have two daughters, but he was only son," he said. "What should I do? I am too old to get married again."

"I watched the blood coming out of him from here," the man said, putting a hand on his chest. "I carried him to the hospital."

I also put my eyes down. I didn't know what to say. As relative calm allows reconnection, stories emerge. I spent the night with friends on Sunday, the car of a friend, their son, husband, brother-in-law, no longer with us, sits in the driveway as his wife wonders what she should do next.

I promised the man at the hotel I would meet him for coffee next week, trying to end what had begun as a happy exchange and had suddenly turned awkward. I asked an Iraqi friend what I should say in situations like this.

"Kul al naas hazineen mithlek," she replied. "Every person has the same sorrow."