A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamenting and weeping bitterly:
it is Rachel weeping for her children,
refusing to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more.
– Jeremiah 31:15
Over the last few days my social media channels have been been deluged with the story of little Aylan Kurdi and the phenomenally disturbing photo that is changing the way Europe responds to the Syrian refugee crisis. The most shocking thing about the photo is its familiarity. Every parent knows that pose: a toddler face down, little tush raised, when too much play and fresh air has caught up with him and he’s finally surrendered to sleep. It’s a pose that warms our hearts.
Except Aylan isn’t sleeping.
The image does what photojournalism does best: it makes the abstract real. It requires a response. It removes the option for us to sit casually on the sidelines.
Our European friends have one set of choices to make as this crisis unfolds on their doorsteps. We on the North American continent have perhaps a different set of choices to make, as we are physically removed and the help we can offer is different. However, we still need to answer the question of whether or not we really believe that we belong to one another.
But after that question, assuming we decide not to just keep scrolling, there is the next issue: where do we go from here?
In my fall semester my first year of college, a professor quoted F. Scott Fitzgerald:
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.
I don’t know about intelligence, but this is the next challenge. It’s Saturday morning in the US – that means fall baseball games and farmers markets and lots of shopping for Labor Day picnics. How can we do that with a clear conscience, when right at this moment stories like Aylan’s are unfolding?
And yet, if we get paralyzed by grief and helplessness, then hasn’t evil won?
And so it seems F. Scott Fitzgerald was onto something. I must at the same time hold the tragedy of Aylan’s story and the joy of my daily existence present in my heart.
And the way I can do that? By love. Abdullah Kurdi would give all the riches in the world for one more day to love his sons and his spouse. The very best way I can honor their memory is to love mine well, while I have them.
The author of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to dance. (Ecc 3:4)
I think in this world, the time is now, to do all of these things at once.