First published in 2014.
I’ve told myself for the last few days that I was not going to write this piece. This article has been written countless times over and published across every media in the world. This piece will not bring joy to anyone and it will not change anything. And yet I am unable to stop myself. I am writing this because it is important to me, but I am also writing it for you, because I know it is important to you too.
We have all been in a state of grief, to some degree, since the news that flight MH17 had been shot down by rebel missiles over Ukraine. I know I was filled with disbelief. Particularly after another Malaysian Airlines flight, MH370, disappeared without a trace merely months ago. Shock
struck again days later when an Air Algerie flight lost all contact after hitting bad weather and never arrived at its final destination. Meanwhile, ceasefire or no ceasefire, men, women and children continue to die in the Middle East after another outbreak of war. The news is always and has always been switched on in my household, so I grew up watching it and knowing about current events. I was eight years old and eating Cocoa Pops before school when I watched planes fly into the Twin Towers. At age ten, I was playing with my Christmas presents as I watched a tsunami flood fourteen Southeast Asian countries, killing over 230 000 people in its path. And again in 2009, when I was sixteen, I saw parts of my own country, and those who lived there, burn until there was nothing but black. Yet when I turned away from the televisions and counted my blessings, my life continued as normal. My mind flitted between friends and schoolwork and hobbies. As sad as these events were, they were not happening to my loved ones or me. I was safe. I was unaffected. I was detached.
Superseding my shock at what is dominating our news programs today, however, is an overwhelming sense of heartache that I didn’t know I was capable of feeling. Something over the last few months has changed and I feel confident in knowing that I am an adult now. Before this, I was in an age of in-between: old enough to know but not necessarily old enough to feel. Despite my physical age, I was not so sure I was an adult yet and I sure as hell knew I wasn’t ready to be. There is a certainty in me now that there is no turning back. Once you see something like this, once you know something — there is no way to un-know it. My mind now flits between the sorrow of another’s loss and a gratitude for everything I have. There is no turning off the television and continuing life as normal.
Each time the news updates on the current situation of the MH17 crash site or the horrific scenes of a war-torn Gaza, I am punched in the stomach with something I have no words for. I feel heavy with a sadness I can’t explain, and helplessness seeps into my core. I grieve for the mother who lost her children. I am scared for the children of Gaza who cannot find their mothers. I am angry and I am frustrated as I sit in my comfortable life, a witness to the tragedies of the World. On my television and computer screen I see horrors that can be stopped with something as simple as perspective and a love for humankind. Dead or alive, we are all human. When we are stripped of our race, our religion and our values we are naked and the same: just humans trying to survive a war against ourselves.
So even though it may mean very little, I hope those affected by these tragedies are aware that my heart breaks for them in a very real way. I cannot even begin to imagine the hell that they are living through. There would be nothing I could say or do to ever make this better. I just hope they know that the world grieves with them in whatever way we can. In times like these, it is so easy to lose faith in humanity, but our humanity is all we have. It’s what unites us and we must remain united.
I can complain about my paycheck. I can judge you on your outfit. I can want for more but need for nothing. At the end of the day, I know it is all meaningless. I sit back knowing that I am no more important than you or her or him. Today I know I am adult because I can grieve for something that has no direct impact on me. And so I should, because to put it simply: anything that is occurring on this Earth, on this day, is a little too close to home for me.