The room exists in an underground shelter in Ben Eliezer, a low income neighborhood of Haifa, Israel. The date on the picture, which appears in the New York Times magazine, is July 17, 2006. The photograph is by Heidi Levine.
The girl appears to be near the age of my granddaugher, Maria--the same dark hair, long, coltish legs, thin arms. Arms that should be flung wide with the sheer exuberance of life, legs that should be in perpetual motion. And when finally the joyful body is ready for rest it should be on clean white sheets in a room with windows open wide to the summer air.
Not this. Oh God, not this.
I ask myself, is this small girl one of the lucky ones? To have survived to this age in that part of the world. To not be one of the countless babies and children sacrificed to the ugly gods of profit, dogma, and testosterone. The last isn't fair--a generalization; a word when no others will come, and I apologize to the male majority who do not deserve to be painted with this brush.
Yet, what woman--Iraqi, American, Israeli, African, would, given the choice, see her child come to this? Would willingly watch her baby bleeding, starving, dying in her arms? What mother would freely hand over her son, grown into a beautiful young man, to come home a quadriplegic, or maimed in spirit for life? Worst of all, to return in a body bag. No perfectly folded flag that is handed to her could ever fill the emptiness left by that sacrifice.
Will this young girl thank us some day--for a life filled with these horrors? Will she ever have a life without them? What about her daughters and sons? Will they? Is the life force so strong that it will endure anything to survive?
Probably. Yet, never having had to make that choice--consciously or unconsciously--I cannot know. I think of myself--born during the terror of World War II. Of my daughter, born in the midst of Vietnam--and now, my granddaughter. We were all lucky as to where we were born. I did not have to see my parents torn from me to die in the gas chambers. My daughter did not have to run screaming down the road, her naked body in flames, as did the child in that unforgettable Vietnam photo. And Maria still sleeps on clean white sheets and not in a bomb shelter.
I feel more frightened every day as world conflicts escalate. Not so much for myself, but for my children and their children and all the children of the world. What kind of place have we bequeathed to them?
The sense of powerlessness to effect change is a debilitating, insidious fear that destroys all of us, as surely as bombs destroy lives. I wish I could end this on a positive note for the generation of Maria and the little Israeli girl, assuming she survives. Instead, I'm filled with the fear that all of our luck has run out.
Perhaps the only power, the only recourse we have, is illustrated in this Native American story:
a grandfather was talking to his grandson about how he felt. He said: "I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other is the loving, compassionate one. The grandson asked him: "which wolf will win the fight in your heart?"
The grandfather answered: "the one I feed."