The island it
is silent now
But the ghosts still haunt the waves
And the torch lights up a famished man
could not save
For me it was the shoes. And the little shorts. And the kind of outfit you would throw on your child on a warm day. At the beach.
And then it was the little girl with her wonderful head of hair. Waving in the summer heat. Hair that was made to bob and blow. Not to be entangled in mesh wire that ripped it at its roots and pulled at her scalp.
Wire designed to maim, to slice open the purest of skins.
We live in a continent that rejoiced in the tearing down of walls and fences. And now we are putting them up, not just in Hungary and the Balkans.
But here in Ireland, in our hearts and in our actions.
Let’s look after our own first I hear people say.
But looking after our own is a mantra that has been used to justify the most horrid of regimes and deeds on this continent.
Looking after our own saw trains packed to Belsen and Auschwitz. Looking after our own saw the so called ‘cleansing’ of the Balkans. Looking after our own is at the heart of the extreme factions of politics and discord in all of the nations of Europe.
Looking after our own is a policy always designed to exclude because there are always people who belong to nobody, who are nobody’s “own”.
It takes the biggest of hearts, the biggest, to reach out and look after, not our own, but the stranger.The people to whom we owe nothing but our kindness, the people who will be gone again.
The easiest deed to do is to be good to those who expect it from us. The hardest deed is the extending of a hand to those for whom it will be a surprise and a saviour.
In a Twitter report last weekend, BBC’s Matthew Price wrote about what he saw in Hungary.
“So I came across a woman from Syria today, walking along the hard shoulder of the motorway. Pushing a pushchair. In it, her two-year-old son. Asleep and oblivious. a handbag hanging from the handles. And a bag of apples.
Her four-year-old held her hand as she pushed it. The car headlights lighting them up, then they would fade again into the darkness.
They walked like that from the central station in Budapest. Walked for eight or more hours. You know what it’s like to walk with three kids that age? With a few belongings?
Her six-year-old daughter wrapped in a thin blanket. She told me her husband was in Germany. That she was going to find him. The kids were amazing. Like so many have been. Most actually. But then the distance mounted. And this little family slowed.
The boy started to complain. Then cry. Then he said no more. The daughter looked helpless. And mum burst nto tears. There on the motorway.
She shook and crumpled over the pushchair. Her baby slept on. The cars flashed by. And mum and son cried. And trembled.
They were helped. The boy carried on shoulders. The pushchair pushed. And mum and daughter moved forwards slowly. Mum limping.
And that was how it was. For another three kilometres or more. Until they found their friend and stopped.
They lay out blankets on the grass verge. The little boy found his teddy bear. The girl wrapped herself up. Then lay down.
And still the cars passed. And the baby? Slept through the lot. He will never remember how he passed through Hungary.”
We cannot call ourselves compassionate if we allow ourselves to stick our heads in the sands and ignore what is happening at this very moment.
Thousands are sailing
across the western ocean
To a land of opportunity
That some of them will never see