Seeing What I Don’t Want to See

I do not like horror movies; my heart is too sensitive.  That’s why there’s no reason I would have ever volunteered to visit Aleppo, Syria, where ten years of war and the recent earthquake has left unimaginable horror. But I had been chosen and the papers to travel were in order.  As we approached a city that had been ravaged beyond recognition, I knew there must be a deep, personal reason I needed to see what I didn’t want to see.

The first stop on our visit took us to a series of collapsed buildings within a few hundred meters from our hotel.  One building that had already been cleared away exposed the open rooms of a neighboring apartment building where I could see an elderly lady sweeping, a laundry rack drying a few clothes, a mural in a once-elegant living room.  It was like watching a multi-frame movie set.

At another site, half of a ten-story building was pancaked and the walls of the standing half were cut off, revealing several floors of lovely kitchens.  At one site,  a crowd of men gathered around us, their faces drawn, their conversation tense.  They weren’t begging for a handout; they were pleading for what their families needed.

But it was at a school we visited where I had to choke back the tears.  Nine hundred people were living in a partially damaged building made for 300 students.  Eleven families were squeezed into one classroom.  The bathrooms weren’t working. Children were everywhere. It wasn’t safe.  I met a tiny infant who had been born 30 minutes after the earthquake.  She had been named “Earthquake.”

After seeing more pain than I could process, I understood why I needed to see what I didn’t want to see.  Instead of looking away in horror, though, it gave me the opportunity to be moved by compassion to make a difference for  those who have met a horror they didn’t deserve.  And to pray that those who have not seen would not forget these precious people as the worl turns its attention to the next tragedy.

—East Mediterranean Field Representative