I wrote it in the heat of the moment back in September 2015, after the body of a little Syrian boy named Alan Kurdi (among the bodies of other Syrian refugees) was discovered on a beach in Turkey. I'm not quite sure why I never published it -- there was an election campaign on here in Canada, emotions were running high (mine and everyone else's) and I guess I thought I should sit back & take a deep breath first.
Even though the specific incident that triggered the post is long in the past, the points I was trying to make are still topical & valid. And so, even though it's not as current as it once was, I've decided better late than never... here's the post:
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Please, please don't get me wrong. The tragic death of a little Syrian boy on a Turkish beach this week -- depicted in a now-famous photo -- was an awful, awful thing.
But I don't want to write about why that little boy was laying dead on a beach, or Middle East politics or immigration policy. Others are doing that much better than I can.
Yet at the same time that this event pointed up our collective tendency to bury our head in the sand to others' pain & suffering (until a stunning photo compels us to look, and learn) -- the subsequent media coverage hammered home to me (not for the first time) the parent-centricity of our society, the tendency to view everything that happens through the lens of parenthood -- and the assumption that everyone else shares this lens, too.
We don't. And as a non-parent (of a living child, anyway), I began to sense a pattern among the commentary:
From Thomas Mulcair, the leader of the New Democratic Party here in Canada (currently in the midst of an election): "As a dad and a grandfather, it is just unbearable that we are doing nothing."
From our usually unsentimental Prime Minister: "The first thing that crossed our minds was remembering our own son Ben at that age running around... It brings tears to your eye.”
From the Ottawa Citizen:
The limp, lifeless image of a little boy whose family hoped to escape tyranny has seized the attention of people around the world — a haunting snapshot that shreds the gut of any parent. As the father of four boys, I admit to succumbing to emotion on the matter.(I am sure that photo shredded the gut of many non-parents, too, who also found themselves succumbing to emotion on the matter. Me, for one.)
From a New York Times opinion piece,
Is it wrong to be more jarred, more ravaged by this image simply because the child looks as if he could have wandered off your neighborhood playground, because in one photograph the policeman tasked with recovering the body — from the look on his face, it’s hard to imagine that he isn’t himself a father — is cradling him the same way you’ve cradled your own sleeping son, one Velcro strap flapping loose on his left shoe?(Why is it so hard to imagine that he's not a father? Would he be any less capable of feeling shocked, horrified, overwhelmingly sad, if he wasn't a father?)
This Toronto Star columnist, at least, gave a slight nod of recognition to the non-parents out there:
Alan, we can see, was wearing little Velcro sneakers with yellow trim. Somehow it’s these little details that make those now-famous images of him drowned on that beach hit so hard. Those shoes feel so familiar to those of us who have a toddler at home, or who have had one, or know one. The way the boy’s skinny legs emerge from baggy blue shorts, dangling from the arms of the officer who has found him and cradled his body in his arms. His tiny fingers. We recognize these forms, these details, from our own lives, our own families.One of the toughest, most scathing columns I've read on the subject was by a veteran female columnist at the Toronto Star, who does not have children.
Does the death of someone else's child become more awful or shocking or painful, simply because you're a mom or dad? Not being a mom (of a living child, anyway), I don't know. I suppose that it makes parents more aware of the fragility of life and (hopefully) more grateful for their families. I admit that, as a bereaved parent, my heart always goes to to anyone who experiences the loss of a child, at any age, because I understand, just a little, what they are going through.
But really, the death of an innocent child is just an awful thing, period. I don't think you don't have to be a mom or a dad to feel pain and outrage and anger when it happens to someone else's kid.
You just have to be a human being with a heart.
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(Thomas Mulcair recently stepped down as the NDP leader. "Our usually unsentimental Prime Minister" referred to the prime minister of the time, Stephen Harper, whose party was defeated in the election.)