I’ll never forget it.
We were walking down the sidewalk toward the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., 15 teenagers and a few adults. We’d been in the nation’s capital for a couple of days studying various issues of faith and history. That morning, we’d spent a few hours at the Holocaust Museum–a first for most of us at the time. A trip to the zoo seemed the perfect place to process and shake off the horror we’d just seen.
One of the girls on the trip, a newly graduated high school senior, had purchased a copy of Eli Wiesel’s Night in the Holocaust Museum’s gift shop, and she’d been reading it as we walked along, all of us quiet and absorbed in heavy thought. Just as we began the turn into the main zoo entrance, she caught up to me, grabbed my elbow and said, “Julie…wait.”
I stopped, sensing it was important, and waved the others on ahead. When I turned to look full at her I realized she was crying, and before I could ask why, she held up the copy of Night, lifted her tearstained face to me, and said, “Julie, please, tell me…how did this happen?”
How did this happen? How were millions of men, women and children slaughtered at the order of Adolf Hitler?
I had no answer for her. Only a shoulder for her to cry on. For us both to cry on.
The most awful thing about this memory is that I feel like I’m living it again these days as I read and watch reports from Aleppo. I have no answer. Because how is this happening? How are men and women and children once again being indiscriminately and brutally slaughtered? And how can no one stop it?
A “complete meltdown of humanity” it has been described as. And in the midst of a time when Christians all over the world retell the story of a Middle Eastern refugee baby come to save the world (of all the cruel irony…).
And so I pray desperately for our “better angels” to somehow prevail (h/t President Lincoln).
Our better angels. Do we even know how to heed them anymore? In the midst of the political cluster that is the United States government these days…. In the midst of native Americans having to defend their land and their lives against money and power…. In the midst of a heroin nightmare across our nation…. In the midst of…FILL IN THE BLANK. Never mind our own personal devastations, heartbreaks and crises.
Is this really how we want to go out as humanity? This utter and vicious chaos we seem to be living in?
Meanwhile the children of Aleppo beg for our mercy. Cry out for help. Nurse their tender wounds and cling to one another as those lost and forgotten.
#NeverAgain we quip about the Holocaust. And Rwanda. And Myanmar. And…. #NeverAgain we say about such complete destruction of God’s children. And yet…. Again. And again. And again.
There are people and organizations trying their damnedest to ease the hell of it all. I know this. And I celebrate their efforts, even as I wonder what it is about us humans that leads us to such wanton death and destruction in the first place.
What I know is this: those “better angels of our nature” that Lincoln once spoke of…they’re our only hope.
Please do not for one second think that I mean this in some sort of paltry, winged seraphim, Hallmark card sort of way. Not even a little.
I mean our real and true better angels…the parts of our humanity that still remember we were created first and foremost by Love. The faraway places of our soul that are capable of realizing what a complete mess we’ve made of things and so want desperately to make it right. The corners of our hearts that might still believe in a “grace that keeps this world” (as my fellow Kentuckian Wendell Berry says).
Our better angels. The best of our humanity.
I have no answer. No real words of hope for such terror. But I know this–Aleppo matters. And perhaps the first thing we can do…today…is be reminded of that. Remember that just because it is happening worlds away doesn’t make it inconsequential to our daily lives. It matters. Aleppo’s people matter. And if we cannot see this, it’s our own feet we’re shooting in our ignorance. What happens to one, somehow, eventually, happens to all. We do not live these lives of ours in a vacuum…and we when we behave as if we do, disaster reigns.
Aleppo matters. Speak this. Breathe it. Pray it if you’re the praying kind. Live your life in that truth. Even if it brings you to your knees in despair for the world we live in–because it is only by acknowledging the despair that we have any hope of something better. Demons must be faced before angels can prevail. This I believe.
Aleppo matters. And our commitment to this is the only way that one day we’ll be able to truly say, #NeverAgain.