Aylan, Humanity, Sorrow, and the Call to Be More

Last evening after I arrived at the pond I paused long enough to see online, first in a Facebook posting by Jim Martin SJ and then in several different settings, the photo of the tiny 3-year old Syrian boy in his sneakers and colorful clothes lying dead on the shores of Europe. I have been living – at the periphery of my consciousness – with an awareness of the increasing refugee crisis pressing on Europe; on the thousands coming in desperation from North Africa and Syria, from places that have been called ‘home’ for generations, but which in this generation have been renamed ‘mayhem,’ ‘constant danger,’ ‘no hope,’ ‘death.’

The photo of Aylan Kurdi brought all this from a mind-thing (at best a distant one) to a heart thing as well. These can and should go together. I will admit to you that I cried. And then I cried again. And then I cried more. Some have said that this photo should not have been shared. I believe it is vital that it has been. I pray that none other like it will ever be there before a camera lens. But as long as these very real, reprehensible, humanly excruciating situations endure, these photos must be taken. And must be seen.


I will speak only for myself. This photo of the end of Aylan’s short life, brought about by the violence and stubbornness of some and by the inaction and paralysis of others, is needed to finally begin – just begin – to move me out of the lethargy and indifference and lack-of-understanding that is mine.

I think back over my years. I think of the Rwandan genocide in 1994. I was teaching at Saint John’s Seminary in Boston. I was putting my all into the work that was mine. I was seeing and feeling it as a ministry, as a call from God, and so I still believe it was. But it was startling to me, deep in my heart, years later, perhaps when the film Hotel Rwanda was released, that I did not remember knowing anything about that horror during the brief and intense period it was going on. I do not remember being involved in a conversation about it. I do not remember learning what was going on effectively from the news media at the time.

Where was I?

Last evening, today, when I see the photo of Aylan, I wonder at how much it takes to bring me to pull me out of my own little world, to broaden my vision beyond the concerns that take up 98% of my consciousness from day to day, to wake me up.

That’s why, I at least, need to be bludgeoned out of my comfortable ignorance and apathy by the tender horror of that photo. Aylan’s body was surrounded by others. I am surrounded by living bodies and minds and hearts. I have to ask myself, and you …

When will I fully realize what has always been true and is revealed more fully than ever perhaps in these our times?

The well being of humanity is the shared responsibility of every human being.

There are no strangers at last.

There are no children that only belong to others.

There are no elderly whose stresses and pains and fears are only their own.

There are no women in danger anywhere who are not my sister, and yours.

Yesterday my 3-year-old and 5-year-old sons died in the Aegean Sea. I pray the Gospel of Jesus Christ and I know this is literally true. So what will I do today?

Aylan, his brother Galip, and their Dad, before yesterday.
Aylan, his brother Galip, and their Dad, before yesterday.

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