I’ve always hated the emotions I felt when I’ve seen a roadside monument. The plastic flowers and wooden cross have always symbolized someone’s loss to me. I didn’t feel an attachment because I haven’t known the individual or the circumstances in which they died. I’ve been so comfortable as I drive by and look away, wondering who will clean it up after the rain and the snow. Eventually, I notice it’s no longer there at all. The small visual reminder of someone’s loss fades from memory until I no longer drive by and try not to look. I’m busy changing the radio channel, or looking back to my children- safely tucked into their car seats. Quite simply put: I wasn’t changed by it because I chose to be unaffected- I made a very distinct choice.
I can’t keep my mind off the photo of a little boy in a red shirt I saw this morning on my Twitter feed. In my attempt to engage myself in work to forget my emotions, the pain only grew more persistent. My Daniel is only a little older than the sweet boy in the photo. I think of the way Daniel tucks his leg up when he sleeps, with little arms at his sides. Just last night his head was buried in his pillow, so I cradled him to move him to the side and re-adjusted his quilt and sheets in the room he has all to himself. One little boy is sleeping, another sweet boy has died. If I think too much, it’s overwhelming.
I’m so comfortable as I type this. I’m on a small break from work, with a full-stomach after feasting on half a grapefruit and a slice of leftover pizza. This morning, I ate peanut butter on toast and threw out my coffee after not enjoying the taste. I sit now with hot tea and fresh lemon. I wear expensive shoes. I have two monitors to work most efficiently. I have a job I love. My clothes match. I have a positive bank account.
I’ll leave here after a short day and drive in my SUV to pick-up my children and our foreign exchange student. We’ll swap stories about our mornings and head to each child’s back-to-school Open House this evening. I’ll listen to their excitement in the car as they share about meeting a teacher, or finding out where a particular room was. I promised we’d stop on the way home for ice cream as a special treat to celebrate. I have enough money in my bank account to spend frivolously on things like ice cream, or extra school clothes. I won’t mention the little boy because I don’t want to see the discomfort on their faces. I don’t want them to feel as I feel right now. We are just so damn comfortable
I have. I wear. I own. I’m able. The guilt in moments like this is almost too much to bear.
This is what swims in my brain: I can look away. I can re-adjust my thinking and mental priorities to try and forget what I’ve seen. I can spend every resource I have, which are many. I can forget. Forgetting is comfortable, until it isn’t. Until somehow- the realization that forgetting is detrimental. This is not an accident or a car crash. I looked up the statistic to try and calm my mind. According to SyrianRefugees.eu, there are over 9 million individuals, families and children trying to escape violence in Syria. They have fled their homes, their safety and many have perished.
Steven McCallum stated words that deeply affected me today. The photo, (which is now cited as being manipulated as a headdress was added for either religious purposes- perhaps,) was an unbelievable testament to what is going on. A mother, desperately trying to keep her child’s head above water- swims to safety. Only in digging within the comments of the piece I read that the child died in the waves. One and a half years old. A boy. Steven stated:
“Imagine waking your children in the morning, feeding and dressing them, pulling a little girl’s hair into a ponytail, arguing with a little boy about which pair of shoes he wants to wear. Now imagine, as you are doing that, you know later today you will strap their vulnerable bodies into enveloping life jackets and take them with you in a rubber dinghy – through waters which have claimed many who have done the same. Think of the story you’d have to tell to reassure them. Think of trying to make it fun. Consider the emotional strength needed to smile at them and conceal your fear.”
When I started thinking of this, I couldn’t bring myself to believe that it was a gift… the forgetting. The not looking and making a choice to walk away from the emotion. It’s not a gift, but it’s clearly a curse.
If I don’t look, I cannot feel and have empathy. If I cannot have empathy, I cannot change the world. If I cannot change the world, then I have resigned myself and my children to an empty, meaningless life. But what to do? According to CNN, I can give money. But I think before that, I need to give a damn. I need to not look away as if it’s merely a cross on the roadside. I need to feel the injustice and vow to speak about it. I need to tell my children what’s going on so that they may be able to understand the world has beauty and evilness. But most of all, I need to see.