Friday, April 10, 2009

Naming the Dead

They call them "Tent Girl", "Johnny Dupage", and "Homestead". These are among the substitute names given to the unidentified dead, bodies that have yet to be connected to a history, family, or life. There are thousands of them which are known. There are thousands more that have not been reported, or put in the appropriate databases and lists. Determining the true identities of these Does is difficult and time-consuming - most police and medical examiners don't have the time or resources to devote. Enter the Doe Network.

The Doe Network is a product of the Internet age - a collection of individual citizens brought together across great distances for a common cause. They share resources, communicate about cases, and work with law enforcement in the hope that they can find names for the unidentified dead. The first article I read about the Network is archived here. I still cry when I read it. It follows one of the original members, Todd Matthews, in his search for the identity of "Tent Girl", so named for the piece of canvas she was wrapped in when discovered. There is a similar article with more information here.

The second article contains this quote from Matthews:
"The one real fear in life is not death -- the greatest monster of all is the unknown. Particularly when the location of a loved one is the unknown. I see folks with missing loved ones literally writhing in pain."
This gives a little insight into the reasons why so many Network volunteers spend their free time hunched over their computers, scouring medical records and message boards for the smallest clue that might lead to an identification.

The fearism I posted started with "fear of the unknown/unidentified". The Doe Network and what I learned about missing persons was my inspiration for that. My fears about the unknown are largely related to becoming unknown myself - going through life without making a difference, or affecting other people in a significant way. To die without a name is one of the worst things I can imagine. I suspect many of the volunteers feel the same way - or they empathize with those left behind, and feel an obligation to bring closure to long-forgotten cases.

Their obsession with the dead is a help to families, medical personnel, and law enforcement in a very real way. Hopefully our obsession will be a help in its own strange way.

Photo courtesy of Kim Fowles.

2 comments:

The Fool Machine Collective said...

This may be an interesting path to take a trip down in our rehearsals. I was hoping to have these Fearisms lead our main character towards death without an awareness as he moves, as if forgetting the stages of Fear, and then ultimately having him discover the danger of his path and return to the chair. Which seems to be the inverse of Luke's exploration. This is more like the uber fear our character is unaware of sitting alone. The more he is afraid of the things that could happen to him if he acts, the more he is left alone and unknown.

Plays the Road said...

I used to wonder if my fears were connected to failing to leave a mark on the world or affect people in a positive manner. I don't think it's a fear anymore, but rather a desire to affect positive change.

I wonder if that desire to not leave the world un-marked is connected to all these bloggings and spaces and faces and twits and I wonder if the internet is a solid enough thing for one to leave a mark on.