I usually don’t get to watch the news. Between my children and the lack of time due to a busy schedule, I get the headlines through NPR and my car radio. Therefore, I heard about the drowning deaths of the brothers before I ever saw them.
And then, last night, I saw them but it didn’t really register to me what I was seeing and so I lived within a numbing placebo effect, this Oh, that’s sad but I need to focus on… And the moment just kind of expired and I went about my numbed state of existence.
But then, I finally saw and registered the reality of the pictures this morning and I truly grasped the grief that I was seeing.
From a non-lethal standpoint, the pictures are lovely in their simplicity. A little boy is laying on the beach, face down in the water, as though he is trying to suck in the water without knowing its salinity. In my pretend-world, he stumbled and fell while trying to chase the waves back into the ocean’s bosom while avoiding their reaching siblings. He isn’t dead.
But the reality is crushing in its cold objectivity. This little man is not playing. He isn’t taking his first bitter taste of the ocean water which will teach him not to put sand in his mouth. The only sand castle that he will have is the depression his body made while the water curled around him, pushed the sand around his body, possibly into his nose, before being swept away.
The tonal sadness sweeps as a Turkish man wearing a green cap approaches the boy, lifts him from the water, bears him towards the solid shore where people, maybe a vehicle, await to take the child away, put him in cold storage somewhere. Prepare this child for the hole in another sandy location that will hold his body in a final embrace as the golden earth falls upon him.
No more laughter.
No more pictures of a little boy surrounded by teddy bears and his big brother. A half moon smile of baby teeth stands as a permanent testament to the boy’s liveliness, the joy he felt at one point before death stilled him.
As I write, I remember the pictures a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer took of the decimation in Syria. The photographer (a man I believe) recorded the images of a town being destroyed by its own government and again by its own people. He had access to primitive hospital rooms and operating suites where he photographed the bodies of the wounded and deceased. One picture that has stood the test of my vacuous memory is the image of a little girl, her skull shattered in a mortar attack.
My mother used to have a hard plastic baby doll that she kept from her childhood. And I remember that the head of the doll was broken, an irreparable collage of fragments that would never truly fit into one another, like a disjointed jigsaw puzzles whose pieces look like they fit but will never fully knit into each other ever again.
Looking at that picture invoked memories of that baby doll’s head. All I could see were the plates of the little girl’s skull as they bent towards one another, the skin dangling flaps of adhesive tape that had lost its tackiness. I remember the curls of hair, the way they were still perfect and unfettered with blood. It seemed that with just a little nudge, the skull could be fixed, the girl resurrected.
But all I have of her is a one-dimensional, digital image that lives as mere pixels in my mind. I can’t even remember the name of the photographer anymore, much to my chagrin. I have failed in memorializing this little girl much as I will fail in memorializing the little boy who died on a faraway beach. I write these words. You might read these words.
But the sadness still flows in the ocean.
At this moment, as I recline in my Blue-Chair, the Girl is watching Teen Titans Go! on television, checking the schedule for her favorite cartoon shows.
We are so far removed from all of this tragedy that the news is nothing more than a bit of static in our existences. It plagues us, makes us pause, makes me write these words. But will we grow from these experiences? My daughter is too young to understand the enormity of the situation. I grasp what has happened. I read articles detailing the migration story of the father and his family, how the boat capsized. How he and his family clung to a lifeboat that would never truly earn its name because one boy died. And as the father tried to care for his other son, that boy died as well. And when the father went to his wife, she was already dead.
In some respects, I am immune to this tragedy because of the country in which I live and the lifestyle I enjoy. I do not understand the dangers of the Syrian refugees who will chance everything and possibly lose everything in the name of survival which is not even a possible guarantee. And in this moment, as I live in a climate-controlled house, I can’t help but feel a bit selfish and overly naive because I recognize the pain but do not share in it.
At the same time, I recognize that I am not a horrible person because I can not empathize with the father who carried his sons to their graves today. If my research is correct, he took them back to the country from which they had fled. They are buried in Syria, the country they had left because it was too dangerous to live there.
No matter how much I cry (and I can’t even cry right now but I feel such incredible sadness), my tears will never have the acidic salinity of the ocean. My tears are not those of Alice from Alice in Wonderland. They will change nothing, will create no life-threatening flood.
I want to end this post with a note of hope. But I don’t feel hope right now and can not create a false note of promise that things will get better. I can not offer that. I will not tamper with the memory of a little boy, lying on the sand, drinking in the salty water, as though he were drinking in his own tears.