What do we tell them?
What do we tell the children of Gaza as the tears stream down their faces, leaving tracks in the layer of dust that settled on their cheeks after bombs turned their homes into craters?
What do we say to the terrified children of Syria, where the innocent years have been smothered in bombs and blood?
What words are there for the lost and desperate children of the American border, where they stream across in their thousands, running from death, hoping for a new life?
What do we tell them? What can we do?
We see the images on TV, hear the horror even in the refined, detached voices of the men and women assigned to cover it. How can we change the channel? How can we look away?
How can we not, though?
It is easier, safer, to turn away from the horror than to stand up to it. Chores and errands demand our attention. Games and movies beckon. The lawn needs mowing. The baseball team is heating up down the stretch. Football is starting. School is around the corner. Vacation, birthday parties, a trip to the zoo.
All of this is here, in front of us. This is our reality. All we have to do is change the channel. All we have to do is click over to BuzzFeed or Upworthy or Reddit or Facebook.
Get lost in the fun.
Forget the faces. Forget the agony. Forget the blood.
Forget those children.
Hey, sorry. We all have problems.
Besides, they aren’t my children.
Yes, they are.
They are mine.
They’re yours, too.
These children? We can’t see their faces, hear their cries, and relegate it to that place in our minds where unpleasant thoughts go to hibernate, waiting to stir when poked and prodded by our demons and thrust into our nightmares.
We can’t do that. We can’t just ignore it. Can we?
But what do we tell them? What can we do?
If I was there, if I didn’t have my own concerns and problems and distractions, if I could drop it all and run to them on the Rio Grande and in Gaza City and Aleppo, I would tell them that there is more.
That this is not all there is in this world, that life is still beautiful. That there are flowers and toys and music. That somewhere on this planet, a kitten purrs and a toddler laughs and laughs.
That even though the world allows little boys to be blown to bits on the beach as they play soccer;
even though men with guns and foul faces force little children to trek across dangerous Central American fields and treacherous waters in a blind search for something better;
even though it is unspeakably awful now and sadness, despair and anger are their close companions … there is hope.
There is more.
I would tell them: Don’t give up.
You are precious.
And I would take them in my arms and hold them close, and cry with them until our mingled tears soaked the dry and fractured earth.