My youngest child is obsessed with counting. He counts everything he sees: school buses in the morning, ants on the sidewalk in the afternoon sun, peas on his plate at dinner. But most of the time, he just counts for the sake of counting, a look of deep concentration on his face as he works to build sequence out of chaos. If not for his enormous mop of curly brown hair, you could surely see the neurons firing in his brain.
He doesn’t want my help counting, just the occasional course correction. “Sixty-eight, Sixty-nine, sixty-ten. Sixty-ten, Mama?” he’ll call out, knowing that something just isn’t right about that.
“SEVENTY,” I’ll tell him, and then he’s back on track for at least another nine numbers.
He’s a typical preschooler: curious and charming, caught between equally strong desires to do it all himself and to be coddled like a baby. And as I sit and listen to the numbers pour out of him, I can’t help but see another little boy who didn’t get to count nearly high enough.
The photos of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian refugee whose body washed ashore last week, have haunted me, not just because I see my own children in him, but because I see myself.
My parents also crossed an ocean, fleeing religious persecution in their homeland, leaving family, friends, and all things familiar. While my mother, still just a newlywed, didn’t hold me in her arms on that boat trip as Aylan’s mom did, I have no doubt she held the very idea of her future children tightly in her heart as she left everything and everyone she knew behind.
Aylan’s grief-stricken father says his wife clung to her baby boy, as any mother would, but when the boat capsized, he slipped out. But the truth is, that child didn’t just slip though his mother’s arms- he slipped through all of ours.
We live in a world where we fiercely debate budget deficits and debt crises, we talk at great length about border security and immigration policy, and then we sit back and lob nasty comments at each other from the comfort of our computer screens. And as we do so, dead children are washing up on beaches.
The Syrian crisis has raged for four years now. Hundreds of thousands of migrants have fled by whatever means possible, some walking for days, even months, only to be turned away. An estimated 2600 people have drowned trying to cross the Mediterranean this year alone, making it the most deadly migrant crossing in the world. How many more mothers will cling to their babies on rough seas as they pack into overcrowded boats? How many more families will undertake treacherous journeys in the hopes of finding safety, only to end in tragedy? You’d think as a human race we’d understand at this point that there is a very real cost to inaction, one that leaves a blemish on all of our souls.
The Bible is pretty clear on what to do in situations like this: “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:34). I’m not suggesting the specifics of immigration policy will be found in ancient text, but the underlying principles certainly are.
Aylan’s life measured in years only numbered 1, 2, and 3. But I hope that one day we’ll look back on his death and see that it was a turning point for the world in terms of compassion, empathy, and action.
We can’t give Aylan more numbers, but we can make his life count.
Click here for more information about six organizations that are actively working to help the Syrian refugees.