Today I saw a photo that made me both joyful, and unutterably sad. It was of a Palestinian man holding a baby aloft. The baby is bundled in a striped sweater and green pants, and is standing in the man’s hands as he holds them out in front of him. Both are laughing, and the baby’s arms are straight out from its body.
This photo and the emotions I felt, and the actions a ‘friend’ took when I posted a response to this photo on Facebook are emblematic for me of both what’s absolutely right and what’s terribly wrong in the world.
My first reaction was one of joy – my heart literally filled with joy when I looked at this man’s face, the little baby, the way the man held it with such love, the moment of happiness they shared. Unadulterated love, unmitigated and whole.
On the heels of that joy came a sharp sadness akin to despair. The fact that these were Palestinian people brings with it a hundred other associations, the most potent of which for me this morning was that in the world today, joy and happiness and fat little babies standing on outstretched arms can be obliterated, destroyed by hatred and ignorance.
I am not talking specifically of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. I am not talking of the Middle East. I am not talking of today or yesterday or last year or the last decade, but of all of that time, and as far back into the past as people have been looking at each other and seeing anything other than themselves.
I look at this photo and I see people in a moment of joy, and I ache for the joy that is shattered every day, in all parts of the world, because people cannot see each other.
We – everyone, a generic ‘we’ – turn people into monsters and then send bombers to drop death into their midst. We call them heathen, infidel, terrorist, evil-doers, and thereby give ourselves license to kill.And we create hell from a distance and then don’t understand how this creates hatred in return.
I am astounded that death of any kind is acceptable, that war is seen as inevitable, that ever bigger and more lethal weapons are created and used to destroy cities, ancient art, history, families, people.Babies standing with outstretched arms on men’s hands.
Can it be simply that these people who condone this kind of death are unaware of what death looks like – the blood, the body parts, the screaming of those left alive? Can it be that they think the worth of a person is measured by their belief in a certain god or a way of living?Can it be that they believe in a cause so wholeheartedly that it does not matter whom they destroy on their way to a the desired goal? Can it be that they don’t see that for every lost parent, a child mourns?
All this was in my mind as I posted on Facebook a very simple statement about the photo, the baby, and how my day was made brighter by their existence. Less than an hour later, a ‘friend’ unfriended me. This person is Jewish. She believes that death is justly visited when it involves a ‘homeland’ she has never been to, clothed in a religion she was not born into. I don’t know if my post is why she decided I am no longer someone she wants to be associated with. I don’t actually care. The coincidence is too striking not to be noteworthy, and I suspect that, given her postings during the Israel/Gaza conflict last year, in which more than one thousand Palestinians died at the hands of the IDF, the fact that I found the smiles of these particular people in this particular picture beautiful, was abhorrent to her. I suspect it also frightened her. If she begins to think of them as people who love their children, they become harder to kill.
Maybe this is the whole point: that those who choose not to listen, who choose not to look at photos of men with children, who can think of ‘them’ as somehow other than ‘us’ can be so frightened by evidence of love that they need to turn their eyes away.
When will enough be enough? When will death and killing and destruction of lives be unacceptable to enough people worldwide to shift the balance, to make killing not a last resort, but a non-option?
How many babies looking with joy at their fathers, at their mothers, at their grandparents, need to die before the blood stops flowing? And when will mothers of children be able to see and understand that same love in an-other’s eyes, and not turn away?
I am often on the verge of despair.