The Thing That Broke My Heart
Wednesday, 02 September 2015
I started writing my blog after the summer hiatus at the start of September. For me, my blog has always been a break from reality. No matter what's going on in the world or in my own life, I can always see the funny side of day-to-day life. For the first time in my life, I'm finding it hard to write about my own life without mentioning an issue which occupies much of my waking and sleeping thoughts...without feeling like it's slightly obscene that I might even make light of a daily situation while there is so much pain around us.
I'm also aware that, every minute of our lives, various horrors of which we are unaware are taking place across the globe. But this is one of which we are partially aware and I, for one, cannot get it out of my head....the situation of refugees from Syria (in particular, but not exclusively) trying to enter Europe.
When I was young and as idealistic as I was ever likely to be, I used to say that there was no such thing as an 'economic migrant', which was a popular phrase at the time. I was able, at that age, to imagine what it would feel like to uproot your whole family and move, without finance or security, to an entirely strange country, hoping for a better life. I had enormous respect for their bravery. I thought that the term 'economic migrant' did them an injustice, depicting them as vultures who preyed upon the taxes of others as opposed to human beings in need.
But somehow, over time, as I got older, I got used to closing my eyes, because it was easier...because I found looking too painful. I still find looking too painful. There's a man who sits on the side of the road near my home in Shanghai...he sits with a baby in a type of pram, who always seems to be screaming. I know the baby is deformed in some way...but I can't look...I've never looked so I don't know what's wrong with the baby. If I look, I know I'll be haunted by the image for weeks, maybe months or years. If I look, I'll give them all the money in my wallet, and more. But I'd be happy to do that if I thought that child would get the money...but I've seen the beggar-bosses swoop down and take the earnings of maimed children so many times in the past... I don't want to feed into it...but I want to help...but I know that, as I foreigner, I can't. It's paralyzing and horrific and the only thing I seem to be able to do is look away and burn with shame.
So, when I read and see the stories of families struggling to make their way to the EU and dying in the process, my instinct is to let it run over me...as if I were waterproof...as if it didn't exist...because I know that I can't actually process that kind of horror. I've gotten so accustomed to letting news stories wash over me while accepting only a brief dash of outrage or pathos..enough to make me feel human, like I'm an active and involved citizen-person...before I move on with my life.
But now - and maybe shockingly, only now - I can't get past it. I imagine my baby boys crying for me if I were taken from them. I imagine them having to crawl through barbed wire. I imagine them suffocating in the back of freight lorries. I imagine their small, pale bodies washing up on beaches.
It might sound terribly dramatic - and I wish so very much that this were not the reality for so many families right now - but that would be a different level of delusion entirely.
As a mother, I know, for a fact, that you do not take your children on broke-down boat heading for Europe unless the alternative is worse than a fairly strong chance of death. I cannot imagine having to make that decision, to take that step. I try to imagine what must have lain behind them to make any human take that risk...I can't.
And yet, despite their bravery, despite the horrors that drove them to us...we turn away. I turn away. It's something for governments to deal with, I can't do anything.
I do understand the pressures of migration. I do understand the fine balance. I do understand the needs of societies to instill continuity and security. I do understand the pressure on public services.
I know it's going to be hard but I am going to look. All those images I make my eyes blur over because I know they're going to upset me, I'm going to look at them. I have no answers. I have no magical solution. But, for me, the first step is just to look and not turn away.
These people are people. They're my sons, my babies. They're me.
[At the end of this, I still can’t tell you about the photo that broke my heart. And I can’t post it. Because I still can’t look at it. Even though I said I would look, I still can’t look for very long]