I want you to do me a favor. It won’t take long and won’t cost a penny. Think back to when you were five years old, and try to remember what the biggest worries in your life were. The sort of things that kept you up at night. For the vast overwhelming number of people fortunate enough to have the internet connection required to be reading this in the first place, it’s probably stuff like ‘I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow so I can go play on the swings’ or ‘I wonder what I want for my birthday’. Simple worries from small times, nothing too earth-shattering, despite the fact that at five, those were definitely Big Concerns.
And then there’s Omran Daqneesh.
I’m sure by now you’ve seen That Photo – if not, here’s a New York Times article that has That Photo right at the top. That’s Omran – he’s a five year old boy living in Aleppo. For pretty much as long as he’s been alive, his homeland has been the site of a brutal and hard-fought civil war. He has literally never known the sort of peace required for one’s biggest concerns to be ‘I hope Mom doesn’t make me eat brussels sprouts again’. I obviously don’t know the family, but it’s probably safe to assume that the parents do their best to try to make their children’s lives as happy and fulfilling as possible – but needs must, and happiness necessarily takes a back seat to simple survival; so I can only imagine that despite their best efforts, Omran and his siblings have had to see and experience the sort of things that you and I couldn’t imagine even in our worst nightmares.
There’s a video, if you can bring yourself to watch it. In the video, Omran is sitting alone in the back of an ambulance after having been pulled free from the wreckage. He’s covered in dirt and blood – blood that he only notices when he wipes some off his face, and looks at it with only mild surprise. A world where a five year old kid is only barely surprised by blood coming out of his head is troubling.
A few days after that iconic photo of Omran was taken, his brother Ali died. So now Omran has one less shoulder to cry on when the blasts get too close, one less set of arms to hug him and tell him he is loved and that he will be safe, and one more hole in his life when he already has so many.
According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Ali is one of a hundred children that have died in Aleppo since July 31. As of the time of this writing, that’s 22 days. A little more than once a day, one more Ali closes their eyes forever; one more Omran learns far too soon the meaning of grief and loss and that the world is not fair; one more family tries to figure out how to move on, like a car missing a wheel.
We’re lucky. We can get through a basic day without worrying about our homes being blasted to ash or roaming death squads shooting us to ribbons because we go to the wrong church. For all of its problems – and it does have problems – America truly is a land of plenty. We need to use these gifts for the greater good. We need to house and feed and clothe and care for as many refugees from Syria and all other places, as best we can, as many as we can, for as long as we can. It’s on the Statue of Liberty, for sanity’s sake: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
We need to do it, otherwise we’re all talk. We owe it to ourselves, so we don’t have to feel ashamed of the missed opportunity. We owe it to our children, to show them the meaning of compassion. We owe it to fellow nations, if we have any hope whatsoever of the favor being returned should we need it later.
We owe it to Omran, for reasons I wish I had the words to express. Just look at that picture again, and look in his eyes, and try not to shed a tear.
“I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” – Matthew 25:40
Also published on Medium.