Tonight, as I was washing up after dinner, my heart broke. One minute I was singing along to the radio and the next minute I was in floods of tears, adding to the bowl of hot, soapy water. Enough was enough and I had to let it out. I have been taking it all in, listening, reading and watching day after day the horrific events that having been unfolding in our world. I have been praying on my own, at 11am every day, prompted by my phone alarm for the last few days with a few hundred other people who need to do something but don’t know what, so… we pray. I’ve also been praying with my daughter at bedtime. Our usual bedtime prayers are to do with a good night’s sleep, her brother’s health and for a good day tomorrow. Tonight I added into the mix praying for people who don’t have homes and who are going on long, difficult journeys to find a place where they are safe. Basically, the Syrian refugee crisis simplified into 3-year-old terms. Obviously, I didn’t want to go into detail about what’s going on as telling a 3-year-old horror stories before bedtime is asking for nightmares that night. As her parent, I need to protect her. She doesn’t need to know these kind of things just yet.
It then dawned on me that the photo I had seen today of a dead boy who had been washed up on the shore in Turkey was of a 3-year-old. A 3-year-old just like my daughter whose parents, like me, were just trying to protect him.
So, as I cried, I pictured me and my girl on a journey. I tried, with the knowledge I have from the media, to imagine us leaving from our temporary home in Turkey, packing our bags (if we even had time) and talking about where we were going. To imagine her being born into this horrific world having heard the sound of gunshot in my womb but I would fill her with hope that we would be going somewhere brighter, better, safer and quieter where she could have fun, play outside with other children and maybe even go to a school where children speak a different language to her. I would reassure her that she would be absolutely fine on this journey because we would be sticking together and, with me, she’s always safe. I would make sure she took her favourite toy and remind her that she mustn’t lose it because there would be no going back. I would say to her that there would probably be lots of us going together and it would be busy, there would be times when we might get a bit tired but I would carry her some of the way. I would let her fall asleep on my shoulder during those times and stroke her hair, just like I always did so that she had a bit of ‘normal’ in the craziness of it all. I would make sure she knew she had to eat well whenever we stopped for food because it might be a long time before we ate again. I would try my very hardest to remain calm, upbeat and happy so that she wouldn’t sense my complete fear, loss of control and total uncertainty that we would even make it. I would tell her how much fun it would be journeying from one place to the next, listening to people speaking in different languages, seeing how they dressed differently. I would explain that the first bit of the journey was an exciting ride in a boat.
I would queue up, holding her hand tightly, talking with her about all the things we will do when we get ‘there’ and we would watch as the others got on board, giggling together as the boat wobbled and people nearly fell over trying to sit down. We would step on and I’d look at her with a big grin and say, “This is it! We’re really doing it!” and we would talk about how long it would take. She would probably talk about which creatures we might see in the water on our way and she would joke and say, “I hope everyone can swim in case a shark tries to get us!”. We would set off and chat with the others on board when we felt like chatting and the rest of the time we would cuddle and look out to sea.
Then we would both sense it. Me before her but she would be so used to the sound of fear creeping into my chatty voice it wouldn’t take her long. I would hold her tightly as the boat started filling up with water and people around us began panicking as the waves crashed over the top of us. She would cry and scream, telling me she didn’t like it anymore and wrap her arms around my neck and her legs around my waist. I wouldn’t be able to keep upbeat anymore in our conversation, I would just tell her over and over again, “It’s okay, I’ve got you, you’re safe with me. Just hold on and we’ll be okay. I can swim. It’s okay.” I would be wishing that we were in a better boat, one of the bigger ones, or that we had set out when the sea was calmer, or that I had given her swimming lessons, or that we weren’t born into the lives we were born into. We would run out of time and suddenly we would be neck deep in the sea, clinging onto each other in the freezing cold ocean. I would start to lose feeling in my feet and my legs, I would feel so exhausted but know that I just needed to keep moving, keep swimming, but which way? We had hardly been in the boat that long. I would struggle to keep her above the water whilst keeping on swimming and would notice her little lips start to go blue so I would know we needed to move quickly. But my energy, where would my energy come from? She wouldn’t be talking now, she would just look at me, fix me with a glare with those big, round eyes and not look away.
And that would be it. Something would happen, in that moment where our eyes were fixed on each other, where every bit of trust we had ever built up from day one, where every promise I had told her was sealed away in her memory, I would lose her. Just like that.
And he was lost.
Just like that.
3 years of life, a lifetime of possibilities ahead, gone in a final, desperate attempt to find him a better life.
We will never know exactly how that little boy drowned, the conversations between him, his mother, his brother (both of whom also drowned on that boat) and his father who survived. We cannot begin to imagine the panic and the utter fear they all felt. However, we can imagine exactly what his parents tried and ultimately failed to do: To keep him safe, to give him hope for a brighter future and to reassure him they would all be fine.
That’s what we all do, right?
I am able to protect my daughter from knowing about this horrendous story and I have the ability to keep her ears and eyes away from something that I think may worry her and cause unnecessary anxiety in her. His parents had no choice. This story was their reality.
Let’s please not allow this little boy’s fateful journey to be forgotten. There will be so many more children putting their trust in their parents as they set out, right now as you read this, believing that they are really going to make it, stepping into tiny boats, squeezing themselves into hideously packed vans and lorries, holding on tightly to their parents who have promised them safety.
Trying to imagine their journey was surprisingly easy. I have never experienced anything like what I think that little boy and his family went through but the thing that made it easy was simple: We are all humans and 3-year-olds are not that different to each other. They all love a journey and most of them completely and utterly trust their parents will keep them safe. We are humans reading about, watching or listening to people tell us about other humans in a different part of the world, doing things we are pretty certain we’ll never have to do in a million years.
We are not that different. We were just born under a different set of circumstances. It could have been any of us.