When the Violence Breaks You

There is a video of an 8-year-old boy in Syria lying on the ground, moments after an alleged airstrike. His legs are gone, blown off at the knees.

His mother is dead. His sister is dead.

I watched yesterday… and as shocking as it was, I could almost handle it. Until he started crying, “Pick me up, daddy. Pick me up.”

The video is too graphic to share. You can find it easily enough on Twitter, if you want. But trust me—those images don’t leave you. I don’t think I’ll be able to get them out of my head for as long as I live.

Being involved in this work, waging peace on the front lines—sometimes it means seeing things you wish you hadn’t. Some of our team members see these things in person. Mass graves filled with the remains of those cut down by ISIS. Bodies of militants lying in the streets of just-liberated towns.

Some of us see it through a screen, from the relative safety of our homes or offices. But it still does something to you.

Bodies buried under the rubble of a house in Mosul.

The aftermath of a suicide bombing in Baghdad—before the footage has been scrubbed to make it suitable for the evening news.

Or an 8-year-old boy, brutally injured, crying out for his dad to hold him.

Abdul Bassit after the bombing. WARNING: Original, uncropped photo extremely graphic. (Twitter)

I don’t know how to carry that. I don’t know how to look at that video and not see my son. I don’t know how to close my eyes without it playing again and again.

This video won’t go viral. It won’t spread around the world like that photo of Alan Kurdi a couple years ago. That was brutal—the sight of his lifeless little body, face down on the beach. But this… this is too horrific to share and too paralyzing.

But it’s also a reminder (a jarring one) that the war in Syria is not over. We all know that. But we’re so far removed from it—and our 24-hour news cycle is so preoccupied with other things—that it doesn’t feel like it’s happening all the time.

For a moment in December, we all felt it. As the battle in Aleppo raged, as families poured out of the city with nothing, our hearts were in our throats. You gave and we planned. And together, we showed up—because we could not look away. Not while bombs were falling and children were sleeping outside in the cold.

But it’s still there. It’s still happening. The bombs are still falling. Children are still dying.

And in many places throughout Syria, people are still being fed and kept warm—because of you.

It’s all still there, even when most of the world has looked away.

To be honest, I’m not sure it’s entirely a bad thing to look away. I’m not sure how most of us could bear it if it were a relentless, never-ending barrage that we couldn’t ever unplug from.

But then again, that’s exactly what it is for millions in Syria—only it’s not through the filter of a screen. It’s all around them.

So when you see these images and hear these stories and when they absolutely wreck you like they did me, it’s OK to look away for a bit. Be sad. Hug your children a little tighter. Practice self-care, whatever feeds your soul.

Because then? Then we have to show up. We cannot look away forever. The bombs are still falling, and our love is still needed.

Abdul Bassit, the boy in that video—he survived somehow. According to reports, he was taken to Turkey earlier today, with his dad. Their family is shattered. But he is alive, and his dad is still there to pick him up when he cries. And that is something to hang onto.