Ways of Seeing: Don’t forget the faces of war and children
A Letter to Omran, September 12, 2016
I remember the poster from 1967of a sunflower on yellow background with the simple words “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” It became a logo for the organization Another Mother for Peace. It comes to mind when I look at a newspaper clipping posted on my refrigerator.
Next to the photo of my smiling 3-year-old grandchild Ela is a photo of dazed 5-year-old Omran Daqneesh, rescued with his family from the rubble of his home in Aleppo after it was destroyed by a Russian air strike. In the photo, he is sitting in an ambulance, no shoes, hands in his lap, covered in ash with blood on the right side of his face, wearing shorts and a t-shirt with the Nickelodeon cartoon character CatDog. His parents and sister suffered minor injuries.
I imagine that not a shred of his life survived, not a favorite toy that might comfort him. What could I possibly say to a child to explain how he happened to be targeted by a bomb? I want to write to Omran of happier times:
Seeing your photo made me want to know more about where you live. Now I understand that Aleppo is a beautiful, old city, on the banks of the Quieq River, surrounded by fruit orchards, and olive and pistachio trees. It sits on eight hills surrounding a central hill.
Perhaps you enjoy the Blue Lagoon water park, the Squares and souq markets. Maybe you see football at the sports arena or listen to music at the Citadel Amphitheatre. You might travel with your family to the Mediterranean 75 miles away.
I wonder what your school is like and if you eat a traditional breakfast of fava bean soup seasoned with olive oil, lemon, garlic, red pepper and oregano. Now that you are staying with your relatives, maybeyou are able to watch videos of CatDog.
I wish you and your family could come to visit me. You could teach me to prepare kibbeh, as I like wheat bulgur and meat fillings. I would treat you to maple syrup and fresh apples. I wonder if you have a new favorite toy.
In a poem called “Rounding Up the Stars”, a young boy writes:
I would put them/in a jar/and make a light/out of it/and I would go get it/right now if you’d/let me/and I would/ give it to my mom/for a . . . present/and she would/let me use it too/and together/we would /read with it.
I like the image of the stars twinkling in the jar and shining brightly in the darkness. No matter how many bombs there are in Aleppo, they can never destroy the stars. You can count on the starry sky.
I believe that each of us has the light of the stars in us — you have the light of the stars in you, Omran. Every morning, I look at your photograph, and I send you my loving wishes for a good day. I hope that, very soon, you and your family will be able to live in a new home where you will feel safe and happy together.
Your friend, Johanna.
I wrote this as a letter to Omran because this is affecting me at a personal level and I don’t want to distance myself by writing about Omran. I think it’s perfectly appropriate that I feel this ache in my heart. I hope it will motivate me to do more. It’s hard to know what to do, but one thing I can do is not to forget Omran and the 1,500 children estimated to have died in Aleppo including his 10-year-old brother Ali Daqneesh.War is not healthy for any living things.
Johanna Nichols is a mother, grandmother and writer. As a former educator and retired minister, she always supported healthy families and communities for children. She currently serves on the Board of Hospice Volunteer Services.