Things are no better off for the Syrian people than they were two weeks ago, but our attention has shifted. Syria’s just so far away.
I remember an evening six or seven years ago when one of my college classes met at our professor’s house for dinner. Somehow the discussion turned into a debate on the war in Iraq. After a few points and counterpoints had been shared, a classmate stopped the argument in its tracks. She said that it was impossible for us to imagine what it meant to live in a war-torn land. On our college campus, military jets overhead did not mean we were being attacked, but that a football game was about to start. None of us had experienced any change in our daily lives because we were at war. Sure, it was a hot topic, but it was abstract and removed for us. We couldn’t get it.
I felt numb and helpless. War was too big and too distant. I wondered what it would it be like to have my normal, comfortable life crumble into unimaginable violence and desperation. Middle-class Syrian families that owned washing machines a year ago are now bathing themselves inside the tents where they’re living.
I’ve felt similar numbness these days while reading about Syria. The numbers are so big they’re impossible to grasp — more than 100,000 people have died and 4 million are displaced. What does that even mean?
Stories have a unique ability to transform numbness into sorrow. Recently, in a church hall in New York City, I listened to stories told by Caroline Brennan, a colleague of mine from Catholic Relief Services. She had just returned to the United States from areas along the Syrian border where Syrian families seeking life-saving help are pouring into Jordan, Lebanon and neighboring countries.
Caroline met a woman in Lebanon named Zahaya who had arrived in the country only two weeks before, just after her home had been demolished by a bomb. Around that same time, her mother had died in a bombing while she was on a bus going to a hospital for chemotherapy treatment. In describing all that she lost, Zahaya said the most painful of all was the assault to her identity. Her country had transformed into something she didn’t recognize. Her home was no more; her savings — gone; the future unknown. She mentioned a photo album that she wished she still had so she could show Caroline the life she’d led before. “We had a beautiful home,” she said. “I wish I could show you.”
FULL STORY Gone from the headlines, still on our minds