You have to look at the photo. As horrific and unfathomable as it is, you have to look at it. That is Aylan. He has a brother, Ghalib; a mother, Rehan; and a father, Abdullah. And Abdullah is the only one alive. And what's worse, he was holding his baby boys when they died, from drowning, while fleeing the home for refuge in Europe and eventually Canada. You have to look at the photo because this family and the thousands, millions actually, who have also fled and not found their way into our Newsfeed deserve to be heard, to be honored, and to be protected. These are him as just as we are, people who are willing to risk life and limb to get their babies to some place better, even if just a fraction better, and even if it involves great risk to get them there.
There are husbands pushing wives and children onto railways because it is a better option than going back to their home countries. There are thousands, absolute droves of people, fleeing from Budapest to Vienna... on foot. On foot. That is well over 200 kilometers. On foot, people.
These are people who seek refuge, who are trying to protect their families, and who will stop st nothing to gain any chance of safety.
Abdullah clutched his two boys in his arms after the boat - boat, hah, it was nothing more than a glorified pool float that you or I would paddle around on while sipping cola and working on our tans - capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. He paid a substantial financial fee, prepared his family and boarded an overloaded dinghy in the dark of night. They were given life preservers. FAKE life preservers. They were packed into a small boat and doomed to fail. They capsized when a wave hit them. He held tight to his boys and he dipped under, repeatedly battered by waves. He did everything to keep them afloat. And, when he could, he looked to Ghalib, his 5-year-old, still in his grasp, dead.
I tried to imagine how that must feel. How it must feel to hold the lifeless body of one son in one arm and in the other arm, cling to the younger, still living boy. What did it sound like? Was Aylan crying? How do you not just stop? How do you find strength to keep swimming and keep fighting to hold your other boy above water while you look into the lifeless eyes of your other son and let his body drift away from you into the dark sea? But as if that weren't horrific enough, just a short while later, he looked to Aylan, who had blood running out of his eyes and had also drowned while in his daddy's arms. How do you not just sink to the sea floor yourself at that point? How do you live through that? Oh, his wife? She also drowned. Possibly just as I described - her heart grew so heavy with sorrow she slipped under from the weight of it. I know I would have.
I want you to just let this next part really sink in. Abdullah waited three more hours for the coast guard to find him. He drifted alone in the sea for three hours after his entire family - the people he was fleeing their home country to protect and to provide for - all parrished in the water around him.
For the rest of his life, his little boy's picture will be memorialized. It will be the photo credited with bringing the refugee crisis to the dinner tables of all Americans and citizens of the world. But for now, he is a daddy and his dead son is plastered horrendously on every news outlet, paper, and Internet feed you can think of - red shirt, blue shorts, velcro sneakers, face down and turned a little to the left, rump up, hands by his sides, in the surf of a Turkish beach. That. That is the final image of this sweet baby boy.
I started writing this while my baby, a 6.5 month old, lay next to me. And I wept. I'm still weeping. I know, as a parent, I would stop at nothing to ensure the safety of my child. And at the same time, I would never put them in harm's way if there was a better, safer option. That is parenting rule #1. Everyone knows that one. And so everyone should know, these mommies and daddies putting their entire families in dinghies and hoping they make it across a sea, they have no other option.
I keep going back to the photo of Aylan in the surf. I see him and want to scoop him up. I want to hold that baby so tightly and tell him, though I'm sure until his last breath he knew, how much his parents loved him, that they would sacrifice everything to try to bring him and his older brother to a safe place. My brain knows Aylan is dead in that photo. But my brain doesn't often see photos of dead babies on beaches (or anywhere else, actually), so I find it hard to process.
This has to stop. The numbers are staggering. Half the population of Syria has fled. Half. Pause on that for a moment. Half. The conditions the flee to are not good, but are not war-torn Syria either. They may sleep in tents, or even outside on the bsre ground, have little to offer their families, and struggle to find jobs or schooling, but they aren't dying in airstrikes anymore either. They aren't dying at the hands of ISIS. But many of them are still dying. So many of them.
Look at the photo. Look at it until you know what he looks like, what he is wearing, what his dying thoughts might have been. Was he scared? Was he crying? Did he see his brother die? No one was there to comfort him. And all any of them wanted was to be safe. I wish, I wish so badly I could make Ghalib, Rehan, and Aylan safe. I wish I could have made a difference to them.