Dear Leo and Miller,
I think I need to reassess the frequencies of our letters. I didn’t think it would be too ambitious to write one per week but it is certainly proving so. So instead of once a week it’s going to be when I have something worth sharing with you – then I know I will find the time. I am finding Instagram a better place to stay consistent and connected with the project – it’s much more immediate and practical. But I won’t abandon the blog, I promise.
Christmas went over in a blur. A beautiful blur but a still a blur. The tree stayed standing, no presents were tampered with before the big day and tempers remained at reasonable levels throughout the entire festive period. I think this was mainly due to the fact we didn’t do half of the things we planned on doing. Parties were missed, loose arrangements weren’t kept, half-made commitments were cancelled but I think it was a welcome relief to everyone. From the 28th of December we just hid. Hid in our house and only left it when we absolutely wanted to and completely on our terms. The four of us walked into town and went for dumplings at the market, sometimes soft play. All your normal favourite things. We didn’t even go to Beadnell. The weather was freezing and the advantages weren’t weighing up the disadvantages so we just didn’t go. The last time we went up for the day (sometime in early December) I forgot that you Miller had never stood in the sea before. I led you by the finger, I let go and then you fell in. You were soaked to the skin and so we all had to race back to the house and change you into the only clothes I could find, which weren’t many. When the work is finished to our house, I promise we will go up more, regardless of the weather. But this winter was not the one to spend by the sea.
I do have something worth sharing with you which is taking up a lot of my time but I want you to know how important it is. I touched upon it in my last letter and now there is a real plan. Some friends and I are organising a fund-raising event for Syria. We are raising money for the International Red Cross who are doing incredible work out there. This event is becoming a much bigger thing than I first imagined and to think it’s only 8 weeks away makes me nervous. We’re calling it Something for Syria. It needs to do justice to the cause and I just hope we can pull off something very special.
The picture with this letter is from The Economist and it shows Syrian children play next to a destroyed building in the rebel-held town of Douma, on the eastern outskirts of the capital Damascus (January 9th 2017. Credit AFP/Abd Doumany.) I saw it on Instagram last night and at first, it made me think of you both and then, it made me even more determined to make the event a big success. It’s a good image to hold on to.
Barack Obama gave his farewell address last night, his last speech as President of the United States of America, and, regardless of politics, something he said was also worth holding on to. “Show up. Dive in. Persevere.” Useful to conjour up when a task seems impossible or hope is losing.
Dear Leo and Miller,
A lot has happened in a week. One day at work I made the mistake of reading too much about the situation in Aleppo and almost started crying at my desk. There was a letter on the BBC website from someone working as a doctor for the International Red Cross. He or she spoke of what they had seen on one particular day in December which happened to have been my birthday. What they described was like the end of the world. When I got home that night, I couldn’t look you both in the eye until I was doing something. Something useful to raise money or awareness or to try and make something happen no matter how small. Maybe a fund-raising event? A charity night? I didn’t really know. So I emailed a handful of friends about what I was thinking and within 24 hours we had a venue and a grand plan. This kick-started a project that I think is going to take over my life for a bit. But you will understand one day why I couldn’t do nothing.
It seems impossible that a humanitarian crisis, which looks almost biblical in scale of destruction, could be happening right now in a country not so far away. I don’t think I am any more affected by what I see now that I am a mother. In fact, I find it vaguely insulting towards people who aren’t parents to suggest that they feel less intensely when confronted with suffering children. But I do weigh up the faces and little bodies with more of a reference point than before and think – you’re about Miller’s age or that group on their own with no adults to be seen aren’t much older than you Leo. It’s terrifying. They look so like you, right down to the clothes they wear. These aren’t refugees in rag cloths and sandals: they’re in Adidas and children’s clothes I almost recognise. They could be you. On sight, they’re just a dirtier, heart-broken version of you two. The only small sliver of hope to come out of the relentless and brutal footage we’re seeing day in and day out is that it is so shocking and so vivid, that we in the West might start to choose our words differently. Because that will be the start of a wind of change. We talk about the threat that refugees pose to our nation and our way of living, and we talk about the threat of what we call our migration crisis. But the only real crisis we face is a moral one if we continue to look on and do nothing. I’ve done what I suppose most people do and donate some money to Unicef or Save the Children or another charity. And feel a bit better that we’ve ticked a box that says we’ve given enough money to keep x amount of children in warm clothes and full bellies. But it isn’t enough and it will never be enough. The one tangible thing I can do is make a promise to myself to bring both of you up as best I can. To protect you fiercely but not to protect you from too much. I want you to know what kind of a world we live in: the good and the bad. And I want you to be free enough of mind to come to your own conclusions. All that is up to me is to arm you with information. I won’t allow you to become complacent about all the privileges you enjoy – that I whole-heartedly promise. I will make sure you know that not everyone you come across with a foreign voice has come here with a happy story. I will be rigorous with the language I use around you. I won’t slip up and let prejudice and judgement filter into our conversations. I won’t let you hear views I heard growing up about ‘bloody foreigners’ or even worse. Or at least I will make sure you know it’s not OK to speak that way. The world is tiny now. It’s on the screens of our tiny phones. Pictures of war zones so clear and close you can practically taste the dust. You will have no excuse to say you didn’t know. I will make you both realise that these pictures aren’t the problem of another country. You have a responsibility to pay attention because they are part of your own lives and your story. Muhammad Ali got it right when he said: Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth. There is no doubt in my mind about that. How you fulfil that service will be up to you.
PS. You can read the letter here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-38257312