It was a near-daily occurrence for my son and me. We were taking a stroll down the long, tree-shrouded stretch of land which I believe city folk pave with asphalt and dub a "driveway," chatting about the little things like John Oliver's latest episode and the big things like what would be on the dinner menu. Then we heard it: the crunch and squeal and slam of what could only be an accident, followed by a new sound carried above the rest, that of a man yelling for help. My son turned to sprint around the tree line, his feet sliding on the gravel as he came to a stop and saw before him an ATV flipped against an oak, a young girl lying beside it.
All that my son and I and the neighbor who came upon us could do was talk quietly, soothingly to the girl as she tried to hold her trembling body very still. Her distraught father, who had raced down the lane to summon aid, tore back toward us in billows of dirt and smoke, rocks and dust kicking up around him. And he didn't come back alone. Almost immediately, person upon person began to arrive for the child's rescue, car upon car, people piling out of vehicles, more than I'd ever seen on our country road. There was no asking whose fault the crash had been. There was no assessing responsibility. There was triage. There was response. There were gentle words and helping hands and, later, there would be the good news that the only repair needed was on the girl's broken arm.
In recent days and weeks, brokenness has been set before our eyes in horrific and graphic words and images. We, too, have been asked to act on behalf of strangers, to bring help to the injured. Yet it is not the first time we have been asked to act as rescuers of the wounded. If we look back just an inch on history's timeline, we can see the shadows....
When the soldiers came in the night, shattering homes, burning sacred places, snapping necks, taking fathers away from children.
"That's so tragic," we said, shaking our heads and looking away. And we went about our business. And the night was given a name, "Kristallnacht." And the world would never be the same.
When a ship sailed in the night, bearing cargo upon which no price could be placed, Jewish souls who sought refuge from the terrorism happening in their homeland.
"That's not our problem," we said. And we went back to work. And the ship was given a name, "The Voyage of the Damned." And other countries took in the wanderers, the ones we had turned away.
When one quarter of a country's population was murdered by war criminals, we waited. And considered the options. And did not bring the executioners to trial until more than 30 years had passed. And Cambodia's nearly two million dead would not know justice.
When men bearing weapons went from house to house in Rwanda, slaughtering and raping and destroying. "We are only here to monitor, not to act," the nations declared. And carefully crafted their statements to avoid the word "genocide." And a nation was ravaged while those in charge chose politically-savvy sound bites instead of safe havens for the wounded.
And now, as so many other times before, bombs have dropped into the night, and bullets have sprayed during the bright spotlight of day, shamelessly splitting legs from torsos, bodies from souls, pulling mothers from babies.
"There's nothing we can do," the world said. And tweeted about the latest antic of a celebrity's lip-sync scandal. And those with the power to act stopped their ears to the children's screams. And the days were given a name, "The Battle for Aleppo." So civilians picked up food-filled bags and were brave enough to cross battle lines and bring care to their fellow men and women. To the bruised and innocent tiny ones.
For weeks now, we have seen the faces before us: soot-streaked, blood-marked. Yet when the bloodied have begged for aid, many have handed out...instead of help...the age-worn argument of focusing on the need in our own land. There is great need here. Absolutely there is. Yet we don't have to choose between helping us or helping them. When there is a crash, an emergency, within our eyesight, within our knowledge...when we come upon a smoking wreckage before us, we don't stop to ask questions about who needs to be pulled out of the fire, how much it will take from us to give to them. We don't evaluate whether or not to help. There is no us or them. There's only us. And in emergencies, we act. We triage. We stop the hemorrhage.
Let's be the hands of the neighborhood today. Let's not argue with the cynics who wait and weigh and wonder. Syria's people are our crash-wounded neighbors. They are broken and battered and begging for our help. Let's circle around the wounded, giving what we can. Like our neighbor girl who needed experts and technicians and long-term treatment, the shaken of Aleppo will need the same. But we can't wait until the strategies are formulated and the treaties are honed. There are already humanitarian boots on the ground, passing out nourishment and blankets to fill hands that have, until now, been holding children's bodies and hastily-wrapped parcels of possessions with which to flee their homes. Let's line up behind those boots, fueling them with the tangible expressions of love we can give to our world's neighborhood today.
P.S. There are many organizations who are doing great work in shattered places. One of my favorites is Preemptive Love. Check out their brave and beautiful work here: www.preemptivelove.org
Looking for a loophole [the religious leader questioned Jesus] “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”
Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.
A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’
“What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”
“The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.
Jesus said, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:25-37, MSG)
Photo Credit: Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad, NYT Article, August 21, 2016: "One Photo of a Syrian Child Caught the World's Attention"
(Stats on Cambodia from Miranda Leitsinger, Casey Tolan, CNN article entitled, "A timeline of the Khmer Roughe regime and its aftermath," April 16, 2015, cnn.com)
(Douglas Jehl, NYT, June 10, 1994, "Officials Told to Avoid Calling Rwanda Killings 'Genocide' ")