A while ago, I asked an 8-year-old patient of mine what she wanted to be when she grew up. She replied, “I’m not sure because right now I want to be a doctor, a firefighter, and a teacher … so maybe I’ll do all three … I’m not quite sure.”
Uncertain about how to respond, I mumbled something like, “I don’t think you’ll have much free time.” Adulthood tends to make one grow more cynical, yet children’s minds exude limitless possibilities. They see a luster and opportunity to the world that we lose as we grow older. This is one of the reasons that we all hold children dear to our hearts. In a sense, they remind us of the good that is in the world. Harming children in any fashion can, therefore, be equated with the destruction of good.
A few weeks ago, an image I set sight on wounded my heart. I woke up just like any other morning, grabbed my cell phone and opened the Facebook app (this is a terrible habit). The first item that appeared was a picture of 3-year-old Syrian refugee named Aylan. He was wearing a red t-shirt and laying facedown on a Turkish beach. Aylan, his brother, and his mother had drowned in the ocean trying to seek a better place to live. Distressingly, over the past few years, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have passed away, yet somehow this picture of Aylan made things too much to bear.
I was also once a 3-year-old Syrian boy, but I was fortunate enough to be born and raised in San Diego. At that tender age, the biggest worry I had was what picture came next on the View-Master (if you just Googled what a View-Master is, enjoy your youth while you can). Nowadays I am a pediatrician working in my hometown, fighting to improve the health of children. Despite all the challenges medicine puts on my personal life, I love my job, and I love what I do because of the children I see.
They light up my busy days; their energy fuels me. That is why seeing a lifeless young body on a gloomy beach haunts me. I already knew prior to this how bad Syria’s situation was. Much of my extended family still lives in Syria, including my grandmother. The other day a bomb landed next to my uncle’s house. My father told me about this between seeing patients at work. I’m not sure anybody in my immediate family knows how to handle the anxiety this all brings. Even worse, I am mystified at how my extended family even survives in Syria.
I am not a politician, and I am not here to write a political article. I am a pediatrician, and I love the laughter of children. In Syria, there is rarely laughter these days. The truth is that even some of my closest friends don’t ask me about Syria. This isn’t because I have bad friends, but rather modern day life has all of us so used to hearing negative news that we no longer react to it; nor do we strive to change the situation.
Sadly, the conversation about Syria is mostly focused on ISIS, Assad, and the political impact of the refugee crisis on Europe. We ought to ask ourselves some hard questions about the human cost of this tragedy. A Syrian child is no different than any other child on this earth. All of the children of the world deserve to dream to be a teacher-firefighter-doctor-McStuffins (I’m gonna pitch this as a cartoon series).
The Syrian crisis has dragged on for four and half years now. I have wanted to write about the people of Syria for so long, but every time I sat down to write I felt my words were never good enough. There are so many articles written about Syria and so many pleas for help, but nothing has moved the needle. I don’t know that my words will help, but I do know first hand that there are names to the faces we see suffering in Syria. They long for nothing more than to enjoy the smiles of their children in peace.
I hope it does not take more pictures of dead children for us to open our hearts to the people of Syria. I pray that somehow we can save whatever humanity is left there, and in the process save whatever humanity is left in us. This article was no fun to write, and I am sure it has been no fun to read. It is however, a conversation we must have.
Ahmad Bailony is a pediatrician who blogs at A Bunch of Bologna: Life Lessons in Pediatrics.