The waves of the sea lap gently around him, belying the horror of his small body face down, immobile on the beach. The boy looks frighteningly like one of my grandsons, and he wears an outfit that I remember my son used to wear—down to the sneakers—when he was small. He could have been any of our children, and he could have been a boy flying to Egypt to escape the Massacre of the Innocents.
His name was Alan Kurdi. His family was leaving Turkey in the hopes of eventually reaching Canada. Their small boat capsized on the Mediterranean Sea. Alan was only peripherally a casualty of war, not one of those swept up in the chilling term “collateral damage.” He was rather a casualty of the refugee crisis created by war, and by our shameful inclination to weep crocodile tears for dead children, even as we refuse to allay their suffering when alive.
There should be a rule in our world: no miserable politician should be allowed to use the death of children in war to justify their wish to drop bombs, when they do not allow those very same children into their house when alive. And there should be another: if it takes missile strikes for a president to become “presidential,” then let his name and the names of those who proclaim him as such be cursed along with that of Herod in the annals of the ages.
The graffiti on the wall reads Aylan viu!!! in Catalan, and indeed Alan lives. At this very moment, he clutches the hand of his mother as he boards an unsafe dinghy in a Middle Eastern shore; he and his sister are carried on determined shoulders by their father, as he travels away from hunger and violence in Central America. It is the old story—a family with a baby on a donkey, traveling through inhospitable landscapes, seeking shelter as exiles, and depending for their safety on the kindness of strangers.
A blessing is promised for those who harbor children: “And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me” (KJ, Matthew 18:5). And a curse for those who harm them: “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (KJ, Matthew 18:6).
May we receive the children—unless we are no longer Christians—in spite of our folly and worthlessness, and forego the curse.