It took drowned Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi, curled into the surf as if he were sleeping, to finally incite us.
This past week was the week that the European refugee crisis, driven by conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and Eritrea, finally hit its disturbing critical mass.
Both CNN.com and the BBC have had growing and more extensive photo and journalistic coverage, but it was Kurdi’s body, washed ashore after a tragic nighttime crossing that claimed 11 other lives, including the boy’s mother Rehen and brother Galip, that appears to have (finally) engaged the European community. Even the Pope has involved himself.
Images of the boy first appeared last week in my Facebook feed (of all places) – a video from a Turkish news-site that showed rescue workers photographing and collecting the boy’s body. The video played immediately (fucking Facebook), and as I watched the surf lap closer and closer to Aylan’s face, my first irrational thought was that whomever was taping this needed to move the boy before he drowned.
Then it became clear he already had.
I’ve responded in various ways to the Syrian crisis, but the most visceral reaction I’ve had is as a father of two boys. A father who wants to see my children flourish and, ultimately, survive me. Like most parents, the nightmare that I won’t be able to provide for or protect my kids is an anxiety I live with daily. And I'm not living this fear in a war-torn country.
I put myself in the father’s position. How he gambled on the opportunity to take a boat across the Mediterranean because to stay was to condemn his wife and children to certain death. The ones who make it face no certainty that they will actually improve their quality of life. They have nowhere to go once they make the crossing, certainly nowhere that promises food or shelter or sanctity. But even an uncertain future is bliss compared to losing one’s family to the sea.
However we got here--whether we've been following the European refugee crisis for months or whether it was Aylan Kurdi's body that finally did it--many of us are now asking ourselves what we can do, how we can help. I've seen several extensive lists, but perhaps start with Neil Gaiman's excellent coverage here.
I ache for these families. Now that they have our attention, let’s not turn away again.