Friday, September 4, 2015

Aylan Kurdi's Picture

Like millions of other people around the world this week, I saw the photograph of a dead little boy washed up on a Turkish shore.

I didn't search for this story, or the pictures accompanying it, rather it appeared in my Google News feed. I was sitting at my desk, taking a break from my job and scrolling down for the latest news about sports.

The stories zoomed by when a thumbnail-sized picture of the tiny boy stopped me from scrolling further. I'm sure my immediate reaction was similar to many others — disbelief ("That can't really be what it looks like.") followed by whatever it is we're feeling now.

A report from Reuters said the little boy was two-years old.

The Kurdi Family funeral near Kobani, the war-torn city
they were fleeing when they drowned. 
He had the stout, pudgy limbs of a toddler. His dark, wet hair was thick for a boy his age. He was wearing a little, red T shirt, navy shorts and the soles of his cute little baby shoes faced the camera.

His outfit looked like what my three-year-old son wears nearly every day during the summer.

He lay face down, his body pointed in the direction of the foamy water lapping shore just a couple feet from his head.  His arms were at his side, palms facing the sky.

His name was Aylan Kurdi and he died this week with his four-year-old brother Galip and their mother Rehen.

The family was fleeing Syria. Reuters said that Aylan's family were ethnic Kurds. They had to leave their home because grown men who don't agree with their religion wanted to ruin their way of life and probably kill them.

So, Aylan and Galip's parents did what any of us would do; they put their kids first and they tried find a safer place.

Getting to that safer place meant paying smugglers to ferry them across rough seas. Their boat capsized and the Kurdi's were three of the 12 people Reuters said drowned to death.

Among the survivors was Aylan and Galip's father, and Rehen's husband, Abdullah.

Abudhullah was there when his wife and sons were laid to rest near their home in Kobani, the war-torn Syrian city the family was fleeing.

CNN reported that, as Abdullah watched his wife and two sons being buried, he said, "I don't know what to do. I don't know what to say."

"I don't want anything else from this world. Everything I was dreaming of is gone. I want to bury my children and sit beside them until I die."

When I first saw the photo of Aylan, I felt a compulsion to turn away. I didn't want to be bothered with such awfulness. Why take on grief that I can do absolutely nothing to help ease?

But looking at Aylan's picture seemed the only thing I could do. I looked not for any righteous reason. I looked because to not look, to simply scroll down to the sports, felt like I was elevating the importance of something else above the death of a baby and who the hell wants to be guilty of that?

To stop, look and merely consider a picture of a beautiful baby boy lying dead was a shade above the absolute least I could do. That said, I understand it's not the same for everyone.

I envy those who can simply hear Aylan's story and not require a picture. I'm not one of them.

Without that picture, Aylan Kurdi was just a name.

With it, he was the cute little boy, wearing the same outfit my son wears.

The story of the Kurdi family has already pivoted toward a larger conversation about refugees and immigrants in Europe. Many say that the pictures of Aylan and the story of his family have "galvanized" public opinion in Europe in support of finding a solution to all of the people fleeing Syria for the safer confines of Europe.

Aylan and Galip Kurdi.
In reading some of these stories it hit me that, while 4 million people have now left their homes in Syria (think about that for a moment, 4 million people have left their homes) it's not the only place this is happening.

In Iraq, 3.3 million people have been displaced. In South Sudan, 2.2 million people have fled their homes. Last year, 1.66 million Afghans submitted asylum applications in other countries.

Those are huge numbers and each and every one of them represents a family, a person, little boys and little girls. There are parents for whom life is so bad, so scary and so dangerous they are leaving their homes simply because life somewhere else, anywhere else, has to be better than where they are.

Until the Kurdi family was destroyed, I don't know that I'd really, truly considered all of this.

I understand why my instinct was to keep scrolling down toward the sports news. Because none of this makes sense. Murderous barbarism and racism masquerading as religion is being used as justification for murder and beautiful children are washing up dead on foreign shores.

All you can feel is helpless and sad. I'm not sure if my knowing about the Kurdi family makes any difference. But, I'm aware on a much more fundamental level now.

Maybe when an opportunity arises where I can help, I'll see it sooner than I otherwise might. That's the only shred of good I can find and it's so damn thin it makes me sick. But it's all I've got and, at some point, I hope it'll make some sort of difference.

NOTE: All quotes and statistics referenced are from Reuters and CNN. Photos, from CNN.  

No comments: