The news from Syria is distressing. As autocratic president Bashar al-Assad’s army, along with Iranian and Russian forces, closes in on east Aleppo, the people are trapped. Reports are coming out of summary executions, rapes, and other atrocities. The scene in Aleppo is reminiscent of the battle for Stalingrad in World War II, as war-weary Syrians grapple with daily bombings, food shortages, and displacement from their homes.
The Syrian civil war, now in its fifth year, has left millions of refugees homeless. Most of them have fled to countries in Europe, where they have met with no small measure of resentment from a fearful populace. Others are stuck in refugee camps, fighting to survive. And these are the lucky ones. In Aleppo, all that innocent civilians want is to be allowed to leave.
Meanwhile, South Sudan is “‘on the brink of an all-out ethnic civil war which could destabilize the entire region,'” according U.N. investigators (Chicago Tribune, Dec. 15, 2016). Ethnic cleansing on a mass scale in Darfur used to grab front page headlines, but the ongoing crisis has been pushed aside by ever more instances of war, terrorism, and horrific violence.
Here at home, we struggle with “lone wolf” terrorism, out of control gun violence, hate crimes, hunger, and poverty. While our situation pales in comparison with what is happening in the war-torn countries mentioned above, it is still upsetting to see so much strife in a land that should be a beacon of freedom and hope for the rest of the world.
Yesterday I read a Washington Post article about the lives of some Sandy Hook parents whose children were ruthlessly gunned down four years ago by a disturbed young man with a semi-automatic rifle. Instead of preparing for the joy of Christmas, they had to prepare for the burial of their young children. Today their lives feel hollow and meaningless despite their tireless efforts to change gun laws across the country. Each day for them is a terrible struggle to get out of bed and face the day, to help their surviving children cope with the tragedy that afflicts their family. Peace on Earth, for them, is a fairy tale
Photos of the rubble that used to be Syria’s “New York City” are devastating. Video images of Aleppo residents trying to escape, tweets from Syrians certain they are about to face their deaths – these images bring tears. My tears for Aleppo are my tears for all human misery and suffering.
Yesterday I also saw a beautiful video of an infant being fitted for a hearing aid. As he heard his parents’ voices for the first time, he smiled. The tears I shed after seeing this were tears of joy. The coexistence of joy and despair is a reality I can’t pretend to understand. But as Christmas approaches, the tiny infant in the manger calls on me to choose joy and love. His kingdom is “not of this world,” but with his light perhaps we can bring more hope to ours.