This morning, I opened the news to find that the little boy mentioned in my post yesterday had been identified as 3 year old Aylan Kurdi. Heartbreakingly, I also read that his 5 year old brother, Galip, had also been found, dead. As this news settled into my heart, I sobbed while I tried to make pancakes for my 2 year old and 5 year old sons. I was making breakfast for my boys while another mother's boys, who would probably have loved chocolate chip banana pancakes, were dead.
Later on, I read another article. Their mother, Rehan, is also dead; as a mother, part of me feels a tad of relief. I wouldn't want to live after the ordeal of trying to escape with my children, only to have them die while I lived. But the news doesn't stop there: their father, Abdullah, has survived. And his grief is palatable when he speaks. Listening to the pauses, the gasps as he searches for words... There aren't any.
"The Turk [smuggler] jumped into the sea, then a wave came and flipped us over. I grabbed my sons and wife and we held onto the boat," Mr. Kurdi said, speaking slowly in Arabic and struggling at times for words.
"We stayed like that for an hour, then the first [son] died and I left him so I can help the other, then the second died, so I left him as well to help his mom and I found her dead. ... What do I do. ... I spent three hours waiting for the coast guard to come. The life jackets we were wearing were all fake.
"My wife is my world and I have nothing, by God. I don't even think of getting married again or having more kids. ... I am choking, I cannot breathe. They died in my arms." (full article)
As people, we want better lives for ourselves; as parents, we want better lives for our children. This family applied for amnesty in Canada (where the father's sister lives and works) and they were denied. They tried to legally escape the hell they were in, and, when that failed, they paid over $6000 to a smuggler to try and get their family to Greece, in the hopes that they would be able to eventually get to North America. It was hope that put those sneakers and red shirt and blue shirts on their youngest son. It was hope that laced up ineffective life jackets on a 3 and 5 year old. It was hope that had them clinging to a capsized boat in the hopes that someone- anyone- would help them. I can't imagine how that hope failed as first one little boy, then another, then their mother, succumbed to the waves as no one came.
I take my kids to the local pool. Each little pool or section has it's own lifeguard that rotates every 15 minutes. They watch the kids like hawks; if one looks like they are struggling in the least, one of these teens jumps in the water and pulls them out in an instant.
This family, surrounded by the world watching, died one by one, as no one came.
When Maya was three months old, she began choking on her bottle. In the seconds that it took to ring 911 and for Peter to grab an aspirator, we had assurances that someone was on their way and less than two minutes later, EMTs were pounding on our door, making sure that our little 6 pound baby was breathing again.
Clinging to a boat in the sea, in the midst of the largest humanitarian crisis we've seen in recent times, with reporters giving us bit by bit feeds of what is going on, and this family- and so far almost 3000 people like them- are dying in the sea because no one is helping.
When Peter and I have needed help, be it financial or help with our kids or anything else, we've picked up the phone or sent a text, and friends and family responded. There's never been a question that, if we needed something, we could hold out our hand and someone would be there to take it. The flip is true; when someone has needed something and we could help them, then our hand is the one taking the outreached. It's what you do. It's being part of the human race. You help.
No one helped them. Governments that claim to be willing to help turned them away. Paying for a smuggler to try and get them to safety failed. Sons are dead. A wife and mother are dead. And their father... While little Aylan's face and body break me to my core, as a parent, this father's grief hangs heavy in my heart. His face, distorted by tears and anguish, as he waits for the bodies of his family and asks only to be buried alongside them... What else is there to say? There is nothing.
Our world is broken. Our country is broken. As Americans, I feel that we should have a special kinship to the immigrants and refugees from around the world. Very few of us can claim heritage to the land on which we reside. My mother can; my father can't. We have family who fled Ireland due to criminal history, religious persecution, and hunger. They smuggled themselves and paid fares to get to the U.S., then somehow made their way from Ellis Island down south, where they settled into lives as "Americans". They left all they knew behind for something they hoped and prayed would be better. Peter's family, too, can claim no "national" tie to this country; they came and settled here, all looking for something better. One of our biggest lies is that "at least those immigrants came here legally". It's interesting to read up on the history of immigration in this country. The first limits on people wasn't set until the 1920s and laws weren't combined and squared away into what we can sort of see as the start of our current system until the 1950s. "Legal" immigration was basically getting off the boat and paying your head tax for many of our great-great grandparents who settled here and led us to feeling like we can call ourselves "real" Americans.
We are so far removed from the time when people remember (or can at least remember the relatives who lived through) the hell that they fled from. We are so far removed from the people of the 1930s who didn't want to intervene in the European "issue" of Hitler; we are too young to remember the horror of the millions of people who died in that "issue" that we had no desire to involve ourselves in. I remember reading in history about soldiers forcing those who had turned a blind eye to bury the emaciated, murdered Jews who just wanted someone- anyone- to intervene and help them. They didn't know, the people had said. They didn't realize.
They didn't care.
And that's where we are. We don't really care. If it makes us uncomfortable to see the picture of a dead boy on a beach, we close the computer or switch to a different page. If we don't know how to address the immigration problem, we turn to the "well, they are all criminals and we don't want that type of person here" argument or we fall back on the "they-don't-look-or-sound-like-me" tendencies. God forbid they don't worship the same way (or, gasp, the same God) that we do. That right there is clear grounds to get rid of them or to look the other way!
This, my friends, is what we don't care about.
These little boys, whose parents just wanted better for them, who just wanted a life where they could be free to grow up without violence and worshiping their God... These little boys whose bodies were thrashed around in the sea as they tried hopelessly to get to Greece.... These are the little boys that we don't care about. Those smiles? That stuffed animal that looks similar to the one your child snuggles at night? Those two little faces that look like the faces of our children? Those are the children whose deaths are directly related to the inaction of our governments- and the lack of accountability we the people are giving them. Aylan and Galip Kurdi's last gasps for breath, their tears and sobs, their drowned bodies on a Turkish beach- those are on our hands. We each share in the burden of that blame. For turning a blind eye to what has been going on because "it's not our country".
Those are people are the love of God! Children, the elderly, the young! Human beings. Who the hell cares if it isn't "our" country! They are crying out to the international community for help.
We are responsible for not wanting to impede on our own comfortability. For not wanting to spend the money to get people out or get them to a safer place. There are people willing to open their own homes to refugees to try and spur their government to action. To quote them, "Refugees are our future spouses, best friends, our next soul mate, the drummer in our children’s band, our next colleague, Miss Iceland 2022, the carpenter who finally fixes our bathroom, the chef in the cafeteria, the fireman, the hacker and the television host. People who we’ll never be able to say to: ‘Your life is worth less than mine.’ Open the gates.”
What is the cost that we are worried about more than the thousands of human beings that are trying to escape and are dying by droves? What cost to our own humanity and souls are we willing to pay because we don't want it to hit our bottom line?
Where are all the people crowding into their churches on Sunday morning and proclaiming Christ? Where is the social justice that Jesus demands when He tells followers, point blank, that whatever they do (or don't do) to and for the least among them they are doing to him personally? Where are our Imams and our Muslim brothers and sisters who truly embrace the social justice found in the Quran, in the thought that if there are tears from the oppressed then the oppressors must be called out on their actions? Where are our Rabbis, calling out "Tzedek, tzedek tirdof!” and spurring the people to live the Prophets in their lives and not just in their hearts? Where are those of all faiths who, in one breath, call on followers to social justice but are now quiet?
We are responsible for the dead on these beaches and the people turned away at borders.
And we, the global community, are better than this. We are still human. We still have love and hope- the same hope that the Kurdi family held onto as they piled into that boat to what they believed would bring them a better life- floating through our veins.
We are better than this crisis and we can change. We can make Aylan and Galip's deaths and the deaths of all these refugees mean something. We can hold our governments accountable for what they are doing (and not doing) in our names and interests. We can demand our Faiths take action. We can do something ourselves, through secular and religious groups.
We do not have to sit around and watch families destroyed. We don't have to continue to see imagines of dead babies in the water because we can stop it from happening. We don't have to sit by, helpless and tearful, because "it's not our country".
May Aylan and Galip, and all those impacted by these atrocities, forgive us. May God have mercy on us for our failures and give us strength to make the changes needed to help our fellow humans.