The first thing I saw was his feet. Tiny and limp, encased in familiar looking dark blue Velcro-strap shoes. Much like the dark blue Velcro-strap shoes I struggle to get onto my 2-year old son’s feet every day. Then I saw his little legs.
I had just sat down for a coffee break. As I finally registered that what I was looking at on the cover page of Metro Toronto was a policeman carrying a drowned toddler on a beach, I experienced a jolt. Probably like most of the world when they saw the same image. I quickly put the paper down. Then I threw it in the trash so I wouldn’t be tempted to read it. As a therapist, I’m well in tune with what can impact me emotionally on a personal level, and I had clients to continue seeing after my short break for whom I needed to be clear headed and unaffected.
Much later in the day, I allowed myself to read the full story. To see the images that had become so poignant and yet so controversial at the same time. To let the tears come. Heated debates ensued as to whether or not graphic images of a dead child were appropriate to release in the media. I offered a few opinions of my own among friends, and promptly came to the realization that I was unable to offer an objective one. As a mother, I can’t. As human beings, can any of us really?
The photos and story of this unfortunate child and his family turned a sudden but bright spotlight onto the long-running tragedies of the Syrian refugee crisis, and the collective response has been powerful and emotional. Calls to increase and fast-track government sponsored refuge, foreign aid, and supplies to refugee camps in the forms of public gatherings, rallies, and peaceful protests followed swiftly and passionately across Canada. And although implementing these actions will stop some refugees from perishing, stop some pain and suffering in the world, it won’t stop it for all of them.
The sad reality that we are forced to face, that little Alan Kurdi’s washed-up body compels each of us to confront within ourselves, is that life simply is not fair. It has never been fair, and as long as we exist it will probably never be fair. Some of us are born into peace and safety, some of us are not, and the sheer randomness of it all can be an emotionally confusing pill to swallow.
The root problem then being that the world is a fundamentally unequal place means unequal access to a healthy and safe livelihood for so many. That and the diseased thought process that invariably invades some human minds, so much so that wars are waged and crisis ensues. It quite literally breaks the heart.
What can we do? Very few of us are or will ever be in a position to exert major political changes on a global scale. But there are small things that each of us can do every single day that have the potential to create ripple effects that change the course of society. If the vivid images of Alan and the situation in Syria can help those of us not living in crisis in any way, let it be this: Be grateful. Be consciously aware of our fortunate and privileged Canadian circumstances on some level in your mind. Every single day.
Practice daily expressions of gratitude if necessary. We don’t do enough of this. Instead I find it remarkable how often people complain about life, from those born and raised here to immigrants who have lived here for so long they have forgotten what compelled them to move here in the first place. About housing, about taxes, about wait times to see doctors. At least we have homes, can see a doctor, and have jobs from which we pay taxes! At least most of us don’t have to worry about where our or our children’s next meal is coming from. Complaining is just frozen anger.
Be kind, compassionate, and helpful toward fellow human beings. It doesn’t have to be on a grand scale; if it makes someone’s day just a little bit better then it’s already enough. If you are moved and desire to help more directly, make donations, sponsor a family privately, or take vacation-volunteer trips which combine holidaying with lending a helping hand in the country you are visiting.
Most of all, do not feel guilty over being someone who was born or alive in a part of the world that is peaceful, safe, and mostly abundant. Guilt is a useless emotion. Instead, relish being alive in it. Live with intention. Be generous and give back. And don’t take a single thing or person for granted. Finally, know that to be a living and feeling person in this world is to inevitably experience pain and suffering at some points along the way. It’s the price we must pay for being human.
NKS Therapy offers services such as Career Counselling Toronto, Couples Counselling Toronto, Relationship Counselling Toronto, Family Counselling Toronto, Psychoeducational Assessment Toronto, Toronto Mental Health Services, Psychotherapy for Depression Toronto, Toronto Psychologist Services, and Child Psychologist Toronto Services. Call us today at 416-745-4745. We love to help.
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