By Thomas Chatterton Williams
January 3, 2018
Years ago, I fell in love with a blog called jjjjound. It’s nothing but a vertical stack of images you scroll through from top to bottom. There are some recurring themes that invoke a sense of wonder at being alive: gardens, boats, carefully planned interiors, worn-in clothes, feats of remarkable craftsmanship, gorgeous and strange-looking men and women, well-laid tables, coffee, cities, land- and seascapes, animals in unusual poses. The updates come in enormous batches, and the more successful (and presumably busy) the site’s founder, a Canadian named Justin R. Saunders, grows, the fewer and farther between they’ve become—now only about once a year.
This week, I was pleasantly surprised to find hundreds of new images uploaded, many of which, when taken out of context, might seem materialistic or superficial, but which, when received in succession and with the care Saunders infuses into the endeavor as a whole, amount to something profound. One photo I’d seen before—and mainly understood as miserable—struck me anew in this optimistic, aestheticized setting. It depicts a young bearded man leaning over a bathtub, washing two small children. A faint smile is perceptible on his face. One girl is laughing; the other is concentrating on washing her hair. The room they occupy has been reduced to rubble, as has the entire perceptible world beyond. Jjjjound provides no captions, but clicking on an image prompts a Google search. I learned that the photographer is a young Gazan photojournalist named Emad Samir Nassar. The bearded man is Salem Saudi, the girls are his daughter and niece, and the room was their home in Gaza City in June 2015. What the picture revealed to me on further examination was not misery so much as the enormous dignity of human resilience. In this annual moment of self-improving fresh starts, I resolve to be more like Mr. Saudi.
Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of a memoir, Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd. He lives in Paris with his wife and daughter.
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