I’m embarrassed to say it took the photo of Aylan Kurdi to finally wake me up to the reality and urgency of the Syrian refugee situation. You know, that photo of the three-year-old toddler who washed up on a beach. I almost thought the photo was doctored at first, because it was so shocking and confronting. And this is awful but true: would I have been just as affected if it had been an adult man instead of a cute toddler? I don’t know.
In his NYT column “Refugees Who Could Be Us”, Nick Kristof makes some excellent points about the current situation (so go check it out because I’m not repeating them here). To read the news these days is to subject yourself to the horrors of the world in which we live – partly because tragedy and bad news sell and so publications are extra motivated to stuff those down our throats – and when I came across this piece about Icelanders volunteering to house Syrian refugees, I swear I got a little bit emotional.
My dad has many faults, but one of the things I did get from him was generosity – I’ve always been happy to give to others. Would I, however, open up my home to strangers in need? Honestly, no. I could give you all the practical (and valid) reasons why I wouldn’t, couldn’t, shouldn’t, but the first reason that leaps to mind is simply this: I wouldn’t because it would be uncomfortable for me.
That’s when it hit me: what if we, the fortunate and privileged citizens of the world, are past the stage of being comfortable? Too much is going on, too little is being done, and we who are able and have plenty no longer get to hide in our cosy cocoons of willful ignorance. I’m not talking about just Syrian refugees or even other refugees, of which there are thousands if not millions more, I’m talking about lack and pain and suffering everywhere we look.
I’m not ready to house refugees, nor do I have a plan to change the world. Words are cheap and they mean even less when I’m typing them from the comfort of my home – I know that. But I can’t un-realise what I already do, and more importantly, I don’t want to. If knowing all this makes me uncomfortable, if coming face to face with my selfishness makes me uncomfortable, then so be it. The human race as a whole is long past the point of “being comfortable” anyway; just because most of us are less affected, blissfully unscathed even, doesn’t mean we get to ignore what’s going on.
The kid’s doing her school production this week, and whether by chance or circumstance, her class is singing ‘Man in the Mirror’. That’s one of my all-time favourite Michael Jackson songs, and we’ve been listening to the song on loop a fair bit. The lyrics touch on poverty, homelessness, grief, death and a “washed-out dream”, which, in light of what happened to Aylan Kurdi, seems to have been injected with new meaning.
And then, as if that weren’t enough, I found out that the whole school is also going to sing ‘We Are the World’, which, again, made the tiniest lump appear in my throat this morning when I played it for the kid and we started singing along.
(Part 2: 2015 is my Year of Kindness)