I carry it with me like a backpack filled with stones— this irrepressible guilt. What good was any of it? Why did I travel half a world away to enter into a space I had no right to impose, to make empty promises with my presence alone? These words are my attempts to make sense of my time spent in Syrian and Iraqi refugee camps; or, in other words, the musings of a disillusioned evangelical. Tread lightly.
He showed me photos of beheaded men cast away in ditches. Nearly a dozen of them. His friends, family perhaps. He had this numb, distant look in his eyes as he thrust his smartphone my direction. All I could do was place my hand on my chest in a feeble show of solidarity. The language barrier and the silence that ensued, the atrocity I was made witness to and the lack of anything to offer in return—it made me want to scream. I could have wept in that moment and maybe that would have communicated everything I wanted to say. But instead, with my palm on my shattered heart, I decided that the best thing I could do in that moment was to listen, and to let that be enough.
“You’re just a tourist inside someone else’s suffering until you can’t get it out of your head; until you take it home with you — across a freeway, or a country, or an ocean. This shit won’t leave you alone. [...] Maybe moral outrage is just the culmination of an insoluble lingering. So prepare yourself to live in it for a while. Hydrate for the ride. The great shame of your privilege is a hot blush the whole time. The truth of this place is infinite and irreducible, and self-reflexive anguish might feel like the only thing you can offer in return. It might be hard to hear anything above the clattering machinery of your guilt. Try to listen anyway.” — Leslie Jamison from “Indigenous to the Hood”
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