Editor’s note: This post was written on December 14, 2016.
Aleppo, Syria fell to government forces yesterday. I only have a vague idea of what this means, sitting beneath the glow of my Christmas tree, a privileged white American woman living in one of the safest counties in one of the wealthiest nations in the world. As I write, burrowed under a blanket, listening to my healthy, well-fed children play in the basement, dinner for six simmers on the stove, and I try to make sense of the senseless.
The people from Aleppo have been telling their story. Their tear-stained faces. Their haunted eyes. Their muddied, bloodied bodies. A crumble of gray has replaced the city they knew. Women, children, the elderly, and the disabled are all who remain. There is no food. There is no way to GET food. There is no escape. Have I been listening to their story?
From my western, coddled perch, the details of this disaster blur together. Was this the town that was liberated by the rebels and people went home? Or was that Fallujah? Is this the town where the seven year old was tweeting updates about her imminent death, like Anne Frank in the Secret Annex with a smart phone? What happened there? How did it get to this point? Who are the good guys and the bad guys? Are there only bad guys? Why is the government turning on its people, and why was there a rebellion in the first place? WHERE IS OUR GOVERNMENT? What will the new administration do as the Russian-backed Syrian government guns down women and children, unarmed and nonthreatening, as they attempt to flee?
We have heard stories like this before, throughout history, but rarely in real time. These atrocities have always felt far away from my reality, and in terms of proximity, they are. And yet.
The internet, equal parts dove and raven, the portal that delivers the best and worst of human nature right into our pockets, wings in and tells us the various versions of the story of Aleppo. The people of Aleppo meet us right where we live and breathe and build our lives. We can see the destruction, the horror, the desperation. We read their stories and their hear their cries.
We see them.
For years, people like those from Aleppo, the war torn, the dying, the refugees, have garnered my sympathy but not my true attention because I believed that it could never, ever, happen to me. Not in the United States of America, guided by the Constitution and a nation of diverse people with a unifying tenet of decency. Human decency. Civility. Rule of law. Order. Compassion.
Without the United States Constitution, we are these families. It is not unfathomable that we could wake up one day and find ourselves in an American version of the Aleppo story.