A friend sent me an excerpt from a collection of essays written by Mary Oliver titled “Upstream.”
“In the winter hours I am writing about, there was much darkness. Darkness of nature, darkness of event, darkness of spirit. The sprawling darkness of not knowing. We speak of the light of reason. I would speak here of the darkness of the world, and the light of _________. But I don’t know what to call it. Maybe hope. Maybe faith, but not a shaped faith — with only, say, a gesture or a continuum of gestures. But probably it is closer to hope, that is more active and far messier than faith must be. Faith, as I imagine it, is tensile, and cool, and no need of words. Hope, I know, is a fighter and a screamer.”
And so I hope, knowing that indeed it can be far messier than faith. And I hope, despite what I see playing out on the world stage — meaning, specifically, the recent events in Syria where innocents were victims of a sarin gas attack by the military of Bashar al-Assad. The images, transmitted around the world, were of small children, many mere infants, some desperate to breathe, others lying on tables unmoving, gone.
They graphically captured the sprawling darkness that Mary Oliver writes about. And I am not sure that even hope can endure the inhumanity we as a species are capable of perpetrating.
I acknowledge that I was neither heartened by the reaction of our president, who launched 59 Tomahawk missiles to a remote Syrian airfield, nor the laudatory comments by Washington politicians who insisted that such a response was decisive, presidential. We were told that Trump was moved to action when he saw on television desperate children choking on poisonous gas. “That was a horrible, horrible thing. I’ve been watching it and seeing it and it doesn’t get any worse than that ... when you kill innocent babies, little babies, with a chemical gas.”
But there is a far greater truth involved here. First, if he was moved by small children victimized by the carnage that has been perpetrated in Syria for more than six years, he could have begun with the heart-rending 2015 photo of Aylan Kurdi, 3-years-old, drowned, lying face down at the water’s edge on a sandy beach off Turkey. He and his brother, and their mother, lost their lives trying to escape the killing fields of Syria.
Or the photo of 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh, covered in blood-streaked dust, sitting dazed in the back of an ambulance, having just been pulled from the rubble of a bombed Syrian building.
Little children have been dying daily, weekly, for years. And now, after six years of this carnage, some 470,000 Syrians have lost their lives. More than 11 million have been part of an ongoing diaspora that has impacted not only surrounding countries, but Europe as well.
Sending 59 missiles to an airfield will not change what is occurring in Syria. It is not a policy. It is not a solution. And it is not presidential.
Of course, the images of those small children, carried in arms by heartbroken parents, are wrenching and tragic. But know that there are many that we will never see, so grievous are their wounds.
For years, the al-Assad military has dropped barrel bombs on civilian populations (13,000 in 2016). A barrel bomb is an evil weapon, created to inflict maximum damage on those within its radius. It is a metal barrel filled with high explosives, along with shrapnel and chlorine gas. It is typically dropped by helicopter onto hospitals and civilian areas, meant to kill and maim. We will never see on television small children dismembered, nor will we see their lifeless, horribly disfigured bodies, bloodied beyond recognition, extracted from destroyed buildings.
But that is the reality of this most hideous and awful war. Fifty-nine missiles will not change this human calamity. And then there are the al-Assad enablers: Russia and Iran.
This is the darkness Mary Oliver is referring to, and hope cannot change what is taking place while we bear witness. As does Donald Trump.
— Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.