A Picture…And More Than Words

by Kenny Vandergriff

In 1971 Bread put out the song “If” on their album Manna. It is a beautiful love song whose first lines read “If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can’t I paint you? The words would never show the you I’ve come to know.” But what happens when a picture paints no words, when the picture shows things that no amount of words can explain?  Nearly a year ago a young Syrian boy washed up on a beach.  The picture went viral, people clamored for more international intervention, and many, many people sat shocked, clutching their children, praying for the family of the young boy.  And then…nothing.  Nothing happened. People went back to their lives, back to work, to school, to cooking, to cleaning, and nothing changed.

Fast forward one year (almost to the day) and another photo is making the rounds.  Omran, the little boy in Aleppo, whose house was destroyed, who is so young that he knows nothing but falling asleep to the sounds of shelling and waking up to the sounds of warplanes.  The young child who stares blankly ahead in the back of an ambulance, who is one of the “lucky ones” as if there could be such a thing.  CNN headlined their article “Little boy in Aleppo a vivid reminder of war’s horror.”  Yes, a vivid reminder of the horrors of war.  And again, there are no words.  There are no words to describe the tears that I have cried looking at the picture of Omran covered in the dust of his now destroyed home because I have a son about his age.  I have a beautiful son who just lost his first tooth.  I have a wonderful son who has never experienced war, though he says he wants to be in the Army when he grows up.

The picture of Omran cannot be like the picture of Aylan, the young Syrian boy who drowned a year ago trying to escape the violence and devastation that is Syria.  Aylan lasted the news cycle and then he was forgotten by everyone except his family.  There cannot simply be lip-service given to the plight of the Syrian people any longer.  Why? Because the next generation of Syria is being destroyed, literally.  I remember sitting in a Marriage and Family class taught by Mac Wallace where he described the effects of bombing on the young.  It was in the context of talking about parents not fighting in front of their children.  It stuck in my memory.  Children who experience loud noises constantly, like the sound of warplanes and shelling, have more difficulty understanding the world around them, they lose their ability to have feelings, and moreover they lose their ability to function.  The CNN article said that Omran sat and was not crying.  This is because he has learned, in his young life, that there is no one and nothing that can console him.  He is resigned to consoling himself.  CNN called it shock.  But it is far more than shock.  For I fear that Omran is now unable to cry.

There are no easy answers to this problem.  In a Sojourner’s article last year Adam Erickson wrote on “How to Defeat Evil.”  In the article he argues that violence cannot defeat violence. Walter Wink suggests “the belief that violence saves, that war brings peace, that might makes right. It is one of the oldest continuously repeated stories in the world.” So what then are we to do?  Can there be anything other than lip-service?  Yes.  I would suggest pressure.  Put pressure on your representatives at the local level, the state level, and the federal level.  Write them every day, call their offices, email them individually, and ask them to find a way to put a stop to the atrocities happening in Syria.  In each and every correspondence include copies of the images of Omran and Aylan.  Demand that something be done.  And for those that think the “Russian corridor” supposedly created for safe passage is really working I suggest reading Clarissa Ward’s take on the situation in Aleppo.

It will not be enough to simply write, call, or email.  Donate to foundations that have people on the ground helping Syrians.  This simple picture of Omran, and the picture of Aylan, cannot be ignored regardless of your faith.  So write, call, email, and donate because Omran and Aylan are not simply pictures.  They are little boys who need us.


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