Jesus Wept by James Tissot
They came from Kobani. In northern Syria.
No. They weren’t on vacation. They weren’t visiting family. They weren’t leaving a Turkish beach on a fifteen foot boat in hopes of arriving at a Greek island simply because they heard it was beautiful or idyllic or the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.
They were fleeing.
War. Poverty. Death.
But Death found them anyway.
And the stark, gut-wrenching photo of a limp three year-old boy’s body – his impossibly small legs, his velcro-strapped shoes which surely were soon to be retired for lace-ups, his bold red T shirt – plastered every major media outlet. And it crushed me.
Because I have kids who have been three years-old. And they are supposed to be four. And five. And six. And grow on and on.
The boy’s father, Abdullah, lost this son, Aylan, his second five year-old son, Galip, and his wife, Rehan, as the boat that was spiriting them away from fighting between ISIS and Syrian Kurds flipped amidst the sea’s unforgiving tumult. All was lost. All was lost simply because Abdullah wanted his family to be safe and to be fed.
Just to be safe and to be fed.
Abdullah no longer wants to go to Europe. He will not accept passage to Canada to be with his sister. Instead, he will accompany the bodies of his family back to war-torn Kobani. To possible death and poverty. Quietly, he says,
“My kids were the most beautiful children in the world. They woke me up every morning to play with them. They are all gone now. Now all I want to do is sit next to the grave of my wife and children…From now on, I will live (in Kobani) too. I want to be buried with my family.”
Abdullah is one of thousands desperately displaced. Men, women, children, elders who want to be home. They want to be home. Practicing their faith. Working their vocations. Raising their children. Passing on their tradition. But they can’t. Because they will die. Or suffer. Or starve.
They can’t because of the evil that men do.
These teeming, desperate people with names, histories, skills, dreams and fears come from the peripheries of our comfortable worlds. Our comfortable world is deeply unsettled by this strife from the insistent peripheries. We want to dismiss this, turn the page, turn the channel, change the subject. But we can’t. We must not.
Because Aylan is your three year old boy. And mine. His velcro shoes, his shock of soaked dark hair, his soft, soft skin. His desperate toddler vitality that should have lived. But didn’t. He is ours.
As John Donne offered in his meditation,
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
And Pope Francis, in his 2013 interview with America Magazine “A Big Heart Open to God”, implored,
“Great changes in history were realized when reality was seen not from the center but rather from the periphery… Truly to understand reality we need to move away from the central position of calmness and peacefulness and direct ourselves to the peripheral areas. Being at the periphery helps to see and to understand better, to analyze reality more correctly, to shun centralism and ideological approaches…
This is really very important to me: the need to become acquainted with reality by experience, to spend time walking on the periphery in order really to become acquainted with the reality and life-experiences of people. If this does not happen we then run the risk of being abstract ideologists or fundamentalists, which is not healthy.”
Can we hear it? Can we see?
The bell is tolling. The periphery is here.
Now, what will we do?
For further reading please check out:
Elizabeth Scalia’s A Death on the Beach May Turn the Tide of History & Imagining the Path of Christian Exile
Max Lindeman’s For the Syrians: At Last, A Poster Child
Melinda Selmys’ And For What We Have Failed To Do: On Syria’s Refugees
Kathryn Jean Lopez’s ‘Genocide Is an Easy Word for What’s Happened to My People’
To help in any way, please pray and consider donations to the following reputable aid organizations: