Oh little child, with your eyes open wide to the world, what future do you see?
Toys and guns, cookies and blood, and a people searching for serenity?
Mama and Baba are close to protect you from harm, so close your eyes and dream my little habibi!
Play with your toys, run against the wind, and feel the sun against your face.
A two- year- old’s world, exciting and new, so much to learn about this place.
Oh little child, with your eyes open wide to the world, tell me what do you see?
“Mama! Mama! Shoof (look)! Look! A big steel bird is coming to see me!
How lucky am I, to see such a thing, something so different and rare! Do all good little boys get to see these?
“Ya habibi! Run with mama, somewhere to a different new place!”
Mama! Mama! Why? How come the smile is gone from your gentle face?
Oh little child, with your eyes open wide, why do you no longer see?
The world still has much to show you and how life should idealistically be!
The big shiny steel bird brought you a surprise and now you no longer see!
A two-year-old child, blankly stares out from a lifeless, charred, bloody face.
Habibi close your eyes and let your soul fly to a safer land far away from this hellish place.
I wrote this poem five years ago, after watching broadcast news, in which I viewed a small Palestinian boy who had been gravely wounded in an Israeli air assault being worked on by medical professionals in a hospital. I caught myself glued to the television unable to look away from the fear and look of confusion I saw in the toddler’s face. Even though his face was charred in places by burns, and reddened by his own blood, his beautiful cherub appearance was still visible, making the vision of his face a mixture of both heaven and hell. As I continued to watch the live broadcast, right before my eyes, I saw the “light”, “soul”, or “life” disappear out of the little boy’s eyes. The look of fear was replaced by a blank empty stare. The medical professionals continued to work on the innocent child, but the moment his eyes changed, I knew he had passed on to another realm. The efforts of the doctor were useless on the destruction that had been ravaged on this child’s small body by the air strikes. The doctors eventually stopped administering medical treatment, and one of the men closed the child’s eyes.
I sat on the couch, holding my youngest daughter, who herself was only an infant, with tears streaming down my face, unable to talk, or articulate the feelings I had about what I had witnessed through modern technology. My husband looked at me with confusion and said “If you don’t stop crying, I swear I am going to take all of the televisions out of the house”. My husband has always been irritated by my emotional sensitivity and reactivity to the world around me. As I sat and tried to compose myself, I finally stood up and walked off muttering “At least that little baby doesn’t have to exist in this fucked up world anymore”. I walked into my home office and promptly wrote the above poem, trying to use a more productive form of expression to deal with my emotions. Yes, I do tend to use profanity when I am distressed. My apologies to those who I might offend, but sometimes with all the insanity and vulgarity of our world, my only release is with a response that has an equal level of vulgarity to combat my disbelief in how cold, cruel, and inhumane humans can be. Perhaps we need to replace the word “humanity” with a more suitable term, taking the attribute of the human species out of the whole concept.
Over a year later, while visiting my sister in California, I was one of the first people on the scene of an accident in which a small child, of Hispanic ethnicity, had fallen from three stories. As I knelt by the child and grasped his small hand, I saw that same look of confusion and fear that I saw in the Palestinian boy’s eyes. I watched helplessly as I witnessed the “life”, “light”, “soul”, or “spirit” leave the little boy’s eyes. Not only did I watch it, I physically felt the departure of his essence leaving his body. The little boy was still breathing when the ambulance arrived, but from what I understand was later taken off life support because of the absence of brainwave activity. I knew the little boy was gone before I received this update; I not only saw, but also felt his soul leaving his broken body on the pavement below the apartment window from which he fell. I felt a connection with this child, even though our brief encounter and introduction to each other lasted only a few moments. I struggled mentally and emotionally for a time after this tragic accident, coming to terms with this child’s death that occurred physically right before my own eyes.
The next day after the accident, I sat on my sister’s balcony with my mother in the upscale apartment complex at which the accident had happened. The people living above my sister were also out on their balcony as well, who happened to be a nurse and doctor, and who had witnessed the accident the previous day. As I sat and half-heartedly listened to the conversation between my mother and the neighbors, I concurrently was lost in my own internal world (and yes I have a tendency to do this), but a comment from the neighbors above caught my attention. I remember the women saying “Well we didn’t go down because the family was clearly Hispanic and I am sure the accident somehow had drugs involved”. Again, my emotional sensitivity, as well as my own personal Achilles heel of emotional reactivity took over my faculties and judgment. I stood up and walked back into my sister’s house, but not before muttering “Racist fucking bitch”. Again, I uttered a spontaneous emotional vulgar insult and response to a situation and worldview of another human that I saw as completely vulgar. The realization that two trained medical professionals had forsaken offering their medical expertise and services to a child based upon their own jaded stereotype of “Hispanics” was more than I could tolerate.
It is only upon later reflection, that I can make the differences and connections between these two events and the emotional responses that the events elicited within me. The differences between these two events are as follows:
- One was an accident, the other was an aggressive act by other humans.
- One child was Palestinian of Arab descent, the other child was American of Hispanic descent.
- One event spurred suggestions of how to prevent the future loss of life, one event spurred escalating hostility.
- One event I could personally come to terms with because it was an accident, one event I still struggle with because it was caused by human’s evilness.
The similarities between these two events:
- A child died.
- The child was from a marginalized group, in which some sectors of society refuse to lend help based on this.
Annually when the summer heat enters my life, my mind often drifts to the summer that I held a child’s hand as he passed over to a safer place. This summer is no different in that I still think about his family and wonder how they have dealt with this death. This summer is no different in that conflict and war across our world continues to take the lives of the innocent, and often this involves innocent civilians; especially children who are trying to exist and live in a world where the powerful and greedy do not recognize their rights to live in safety and security. This summer is no different in that much of the world that is not directly affected by this conflict turn their backs on the suffering of others. This summer is no different in that people in general fail to lend a hand, or give support to those that they view different from themselves.
My question is: How many summers have to pass before humans quit basing their judgments and actions on who deserves help on stereotypes of the “other”? How many summers have to pass with the continued death of children in Palestine and elsewhere in the world caused by humans’ darker side and lack of empathetic concern and action? I wrote the poem at the beginning of this piece nearly five years ago, even more shocking, the war and conflict has raged for more than 80 years; how much more time has to pass before no more children are casualties of this conflict?
When humans quit being vulgar in their actions, perhaps I will learn to be less vulgar in my words as well.