She couldn’t be more than 5 years old. And yet there is a lifetime of hurt in her eyes as she stands there among other refugees, a bag of belongings on her shoulder as they collectively flee ISIS terrorism and seek safety in Kurdistan.
Perhaps you saw the AP photo, too. And perhaps you were haunted, as I was, by her pigtails, her pink sandals and the intensely anxious look on her sweet young face. It’s a helpless feeling to know that there are thousands of people — including innocent children — who are suffering and dying, and that for all of our military might and technological genius, we don’t seem to be able to stop it.
“The president is doing everything he can,” a colleague said as we casually discussed the heartbreaking situation while our respective lunches warmed in two break room microwaves. “He’s airlifting food and water and supplies, and he’s trying to bomb ISIS strongholds.”
“In between rounds of golf on his vacation,” I sniffed, imitating the condescending rhetorical tone I had heard on talk radio earlier that morning.
“Well, what would you do?” my colleague asked. “Invade? Drop a nuclear bomb? Decimate their culture with fast food, reality TV and Lady Gaga?”
I hesitated a moment, hoping some great idea would pop into my mind — which, admittedly, is a little like hoping Israel and Hamas will decide to settle their differences with a winner-take-all soccer match.
“I don’t know,” I said as both microwaves dinged and finished whirring almost simultaneously. “I’m just feeling I don’t know frustrated. I want us to do something to fix this. I want us to be able to, you know, make everything better.”
My colleague chuckled as she walked out of the room with her spaghetti.
“Now you know how John Kerry feels,” she said.
Somehow that didn’t help.
I was still feeling a little discouraged as I pulled into my driveway at the end of the day. I almost didn’t notice the little girl sitting on the curb in front of my neighbor’s house, or the soft whimpering that was coming from her as she looked at her knee. But I did notice her cute pink sandals, and instinctively I went to her.
“What’s the matter, sweetheart?” I asked as I crouched close to her.
“Oweee!” was all she could say between sobs, which seemed to intensify now that someone was paying attention. Clearly, she had fallen and skinned her knee, but it didn’t look too serious. So I went to our garage freezer and got her a Popsicle, and before you could say “Iraqi Kurdistan” she was smiling happily and running up the front stairs into her house.
As I walked toward my own front door it occurred to me that I was somehow feeling a little bit better. Not that my small service to a little girl in the neighborhood did anything to alleviate the suffering of the child I had seen in the news photograph. But it had alleviated a little suffering in my own corner of the world. And for the time being, that was the best I could do.
Of course, I’m not suggesting that we should give up on doing anything about the geopolitical tragedies unfolding in the world around us. I believe it’s our moral obligation to do all that we can to help ease pain and suffering wherever we see it. But as long as we’re feeling benevolent, let’s not forget those who are hurting in our own backyard. Our neighbors’ plight may not be as dramatic as those in Iraq, Israel or Gaza, but to them it is every bit as real and oppressive.
And the healing balm of service is as soothing to our souls whether we apply it locally or long distance.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr