It was the black and white photo that grabbed my heart.
In the midst of a sea of humanity, refugees in tents Sleeping on bags and blankets: a tent. In the background, a mother wearing hijab Sitting, perhaps praying Next to her child In another corner A young man In the sun Staring out into the abyss wondering how people who are somebody from somewhere Came to be here My eyes gravitated to the center of the picture: Inside a tent A couple kissing Oh so tenderly. His arms wrapped around her. Her arm resting tenderly on his shoulder.
“The refugees will win. Life will win!”
The refugee crisis has been weighing on me for a while. We live in an age where ideas travel around the world at the click of a button. The goods we consume, from our soap and coffee to our clothing, come from all over the world. Whereas we might enjoy Sumatran or Kenyan coffee or a Chinese-manufactured smart phone, the movement of people is usually for far less pleasant reasons. We welcome ideas and goods, but not so much the people who are attached to those ideas and goods.
Whether looking at the creation of four million stateless Palestinian refugees (homeless since 1948) or the creation of more than nine million Syrian refugees and internally displaced people (since 2011), the combination of political strife, extremism, militarism, geopolitics, and environmental desecration has created millions of refugees. This is likely to be one of the stories of the 21st century.
In some cases they are homeless, with no home for them to go back to. In other cases a new people are now living in what used to be their home. If Jesus said that the poor would always be with us, in this century it’s perhaps the refugee, the stateless, the dispossessed who are with us.
I come back to the couple in the tent. And that tender kiss. Yes, they are refugees. Yes, they are refugees not because they ever stopped loving their home, but because they loved their children more. Because they loved life more. And they clung to the stubborn hope of a better life, of life itself.
I come back to that kiss. There is love, and tenderness, and hope in that kiss. In their love, their tenderness, and their hope, there is hope for all of us.
It reminds me of the beautiful words of the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish:
We Palestinians suffer from an incurable disease called “hope”. Hope for liberation and independence. Hope for a normal life where we shall be neither heroes nor victims. Hope to see our children go to school without danger. Hope for a pregnant woman to give birth to a living baby, in a hospital, and not to a dead child in front of a military control post. Hope that our poets will see the beauty of the colour red in roses, rather than in blood. Hope that this land will recover its original name: "land of hope and peace." Thank you for carrying with us this banner of hope.
The refugees are not merely a “problem” for Europe. This is not merely a “demographic” or economic crisis. They are human beings with their own lives, their own hopes, their own dreams and aspirations. There, right in the middle of the refugee camps, there is love, there is life, there is mourning, there is loss. There are weddings and funerals, children being born, courtship and poetry.
Their lives have already been drastically altered. Their homes and homelands erased. I will not erase their humanity by turning a people into a “problem.”
How powerful it is to listen, to amplify the voice of such a people. It is as the Somali-born poet Warsan Shire has said:
no one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark you only run for the border when you see the whole city running as well your neighbours running faster than you breath bloody in their throats the boy you went to school with who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory is holding a gun bigger than his body you only leave home when home won't let you stay. no one leaves home unless home chases you fire under feet hot blood in your belly it's not something you ever thought of doing until the blade burnt threats into your neck and even then you carried the anthem under your breath only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets sobbing as each mouthful of paper made it clear that you wouldn't be going back. you have to understand, that no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land no one burns their palms under trains beneath carriages no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled means something more than journey. no one crawls under fences no one wants to be beaten pitied no one chooses refugee camps or strip searches where your body is left aching or prison, because prison is safer than a city of fire and one prison guard in the night is better than a truckload of men who look like your father no one could take it no one could stomach it no one skin would be tough enough the go home blacks refugees dirty immigrants asylum seekers sucking our country dry niggers with their hands out they smell strange savage messed up their country and now they want to mess ours up how do the words the dirty looks roll off your backs maybe because the blow is softer than a limb torn off or the words are more tender than fourteen men between your legs or the insults are easier to swallow than rubble than bone than your child body in pieces. i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark home is the barrel of the gun and no one would leave home unless home chased you to the shore unless home told you to quicken your legs leave your clothes behind crawl through the desert wade through the oceans drown save be hunger beg forget pride your survival is more important no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear saying- leave, run away from me now i dont know what i've become but i know that anywhere is safer than here.
Shire is right. Her powerful words deserve a second look:
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
I come back to the couple in the tent. Yes, they are refugees. Yes, they are homeless. But life goes on. Love goes on.
There is a love that shines in the darkest places of suffering. There is a love where what is human mingles with what is divine.
There is a love that stands in the midst of turmoil, stands up, and declares with a kiss that tenderness, kindness, and affection shall have the victory. There is a love that says: we are human. There is a love that says: we love, therefore we are.