A U.S. Air Force transport jet at Kabul International Airport August 16, 2021

Hundreds of people run alongside a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane as it moves down a runway of the international airport, in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug.16. 2021. Thousands of Afghans rushed onto the tarmac at the airport, some so desperate to escape the Taliban capture of their country that they held onto the American military jet as it took off and plunged to death.

Writers usually stuff facts in dispatches from the front or the cop shop or the accident scene. All those W’s and H’s, jammed together.

Generally, the formula works. But individual facts, as well as individuals, can become lost in the crowd.

It’s why I loved this simple sentence from The New York Times’ reporting of the exodus from Afghanistan. Reporter Farnaz Fassihi begins this 571-word article in classic inverted pyramid:

A member of Afghanistan’s national youth soccer team was among the people who were killed as they tried desperately to cling to a U.S. military plane evacuating people from Kabul this week, the country’s official sports federation said on Thursday.

A lot of action in that lead. It would have been easy enough to slip in the teenager’s name and age. Instead, Fassihi sets off those facts in the second graf, using a secret weapon: the passive verb.

His name was Zaki Anwari, and he was 17.

Here, “was” becomes so … final.  Zaki will never be a member of the youth soccer team again. He will never be 18.

Writing celebrates the active. Those verbs can make us dance, play, romp, run — they let us see. Sometimes, though, the lowly passive can break our hearts.

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