COLUMN: Thinking about one face among millions

The Syrian refugee crisis reminds us of what we have in Canada

It’s difficult to mentally grasp two million of anything, let alone that many human beings.

For most of us, it’s much easier to imagine two million dollars than that number of people.

Add another layer to this numerical concept – human suffering – and it goes beyond comprehension, particularly when there is little local context, and the struggle is on the other side of the world.

Actually, the number is far more than two million. That’s just the growing number of refugees who have fled across the borders of Syria and now live in Jordan, Lebanon and other neighbouring countries.

There are millions more in increasingly desperate straits living in Syria.

Clarity of comprehension improves if you’ve actually “been there, seen it,” but then the sense of the sheer immensity of the situation can become utterly overwhelming.

It’s almost better not to witness any of it at all.

However, that wouldn’t be right.

After having spent a week visiting some of those refugees in Jordan and Lebanon last month, I try not to be overwhelmed by the millions of faceless people that I didn’t meet but I know are out there.

Instead, I think mostly of one.

Her name is Angeline. That’s her in the picture.

She lives in a UN-donated tent, on a stretch of rocky ground on the outskirts of Irbid, Jordan, with her five siblings and her parents.

When I saw Angeline, shyly standing among the boulders, I thought of my own daughter, Anna, back in Abbotsford.

Their ages aren’t far apart. They’d recognize each other’s hopes and dreams.

But the similarities are painfully few.

For my daughter there is no civil war.

No guns and shooting.

No bombing or shelling.

No hunger.

No fear.

No severe limit on choices, or at least any that seem worth making.

No sense of not belonging, living in a foreign country, with no idea of when it might be possible to return home – and what remains when you do.

It’s easier to understand Angeline’s situation, because there is far more to not understand about Syria than there is to fully comprehend – the politics, the sectarian hatred and violence, the scarce hope for eventual peace.

Syria is submerged in hows and whys, in a miserable sea of millions of people torn from their homes and normal lives, some barely hanging on to existence, with so many whose frail grip on life will fail.

I try not to think of Angeline too much because, as one aid worker told me when I asked him why he did what he does: “It hurts inside when I think about them.”

And it should, especially for us here in Canada, and particularly at this time of year. It reminds us of what we have, and what we take for granted.

Even the less fortunate among us don’t have civil war raging around them.

We have so many choices – some difficult, some so patently easy, like choosing not to worry about human suffering on a monumental scale on the other side of the world.

Because when we do, it can conjure feelings of guilt, or helplessness, and unfortunately in some, superiority.

But thinking about those people – and doing something about it – can also bring a sense of worth, of accomplishment, of being something more than a consumer in a country with a cornucopia of goods and a wealth of freedoms.

So, in the midst of the Christmas season, as we draw our families around us to celebrate, I’m going to ask you to think about Angeline, and perhaps, if you are inclined that way, to include her in your prayers.

She’s just one young girl in a faraway land. But to me – and in a way to all of us – she means the world … if you

understand.

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