We’ve all heard the expression. A picture is worth a thousand words. But this particular photo puts me at a loss for any amount of words. Where media coverage phrases like “ongoing migrant crisis” fall feebly short, it bluntly conveys an ugly reality of just how desperate the situation facing many refugees has become.
It’s one of several photographs that went viral earlier this week, hopefully shocking the world from complacency and ignorance concerning the plight of millions of people trying to escape the seemingly endless horrors of war in the Middle East. The photos and the dreadful circumstances they portray are a “stark testimony of an unfolding human tragedy that is playing out in Syria, Turkey, and Europe, often unwitnessed,” wrote Kim Murphy, a news editor at the Los Angeles Times.
Well, now thanks to this heart wrenching photograph we are forced to witness a disturbing glimpse into a still frame of this unspeakable calamity, and we see more than a distant, inconsequential-to-us humanitarian crisis out of control.
What we see is the appalling outcome of a fiberglass boat packed with 12 desperate people aboard capsizing off the coast of Turkey, after just minutes into their journey. Their destination – the Greek island of Kos, only 2.5 miles away. An estimated 2,000 people are making the same short but dangerously rough sea crossing every day. But these folks, including three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, his five-year-old brother and their mother, all perished in an effort to escape the hell on earth that is now Syria, drowning instead in the Mediterranean, ironically their hoped for passageway to freedom and a new life in the West.
What we see is little Aylan, washed ashore on the beach, like debris cast off by a careless humanity. When power hungry men time and time again rationalize the insane depravity of bludgeoning the life out of each other, either with clubs or swords as in centuries past, or with the far more sophisticated and effective modern weaponry of our age, we all suffer. The bitter vintage of warfare is also drunk far beyond the blood soaked battlefield. The grim harvest of brutality spares neither mothers nor their children, and in this case, the iron scythe of death too soon struck down an innocent Kurdish family hoping for a new life beyond the grip of an insatiable monster known as terrorism.
What we see yet again is another vivid portrait of a senseless tragedy. We feel again that deep, despairing heartache, and ask again the unanswerable question, “Why?”
We will find no adequate consolation in this world for suffering and loss, especially one of this magnitude, the death of a beautiful toddler, just like one of those little boys we see playing ball down the street in our own neighborhood. Yet there is always a glimmer of light, even in what may appear as utter darkness, when we rise above the most brutal circumstances of life with faith. “I have told you [about the realities of this life] so that you may have peace in me,” Jesus said. “Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.”
Rest in peace, Aylan. You are finally free. Free indeed.