The little boy in the picture looked dirty and disheveled, his cracked feet were bare; his dress, frayed and shabby; his big innocent eyes had seen bloodshed, fear, and anguish; he had felt the cold hands of death closing on him as he fled the country that he called home. Yet, he had a smile, a smile that no force could snatch away, a smile for the world to see.
The picture of this little boy was among the pictures of the many refugees fleeing their war-torn home country to share the already dwindling resources in a refugee camp. The role and power of media showed to the world the suffering, hardship and atrocities that these innocent victims of war have had to endure after the Arab Spring.
This picture was like a dagger that pierced my heart. Like every parent, I have always wished to give my children the very best and yet I have had my share of guilt pangs. I wondered if the little boy’s mother would be thankful that her family had survived the shelling and gunfire as they fled their way to the refugee camp which was going to be their new home or would she be worried about the bleak future that awaited them.
This rush of empathy was momentary after which I went on with the rest of my day without much thought about the little boy or the strange circumstances that had shattered his childhood dreams.
The day waned on, evening arrived and then, we were struck by an unexpected power outage. It took me by surprise as power cuts are almost non-existent in this part of the world. I was flustered and the children were agitated. Life seemed to have come to a halt. No amount of frustration or words of anger at disrupting my otherwise rhythmic schedule could bring the power back. I finally decided that I would rather lay back and use this night to take things slow. I opened the windows and the cool evening air seemed to settle inside the room. A sudden rush of nostalgia washed over me. The place suddenly seemed quiet, too quiet, no blaring televisions, no whining of air-cons, beeping of microwaves or whirring of the dishwasher. The gentle light of a flickering candle coupled with the cool evening breeze enveloped the room refreshing old childhood memories.
In India, power cuts are a common occurrence, especially during the monsoons. These unscheduled, unexpected nocturnal blackouts were a boon for us children. A power outage meant a break from the usual homework and studies to hiding in dark corners scaring one another, guessing the elongated misshapen shapes made on the other side of a flickering candle, enjoying a sumptuous dinner laughing and talking about our day sitting around candles that were mounted on old aluminium tins while the rain and thunderstorms raged outside. These simple moments of joy had been forgotten and long lost in the complexities of adulthood.
The chair on the balcony which was usually used as a prop to tie shoelaces, the hand rest that doubled as the road for my son’s cars while I tended to the plants was inviting. I sat on it and simply stared at the inky blackness of the starless skies, dotted with the occasional twinkling of the navigation light of an aircraft which could almost be mistaken for a star. It was wonderful to be sitting out enveloped in the dark blanket of the night without distractions, the silence only broken by the squeaks and creaks of the old cane chair, crickets chirping, the distant purring of a cat, the sound of my breath and my heart beating. Had such sounds always existed or were they just forgotten?
The night is known to excite our senses, but this powerless interlude was an opportunity for reflection, an opportunity to think of the trivial but significant aspects of life that we take for granted, the joys we overlook living not by nature’s tempo but by man’s technologically created stopwatch. We are racing on for better life, better future, better relationships forgetting to pause. Can we afford to pause a moment to enjoy the beauty of life, the sweet taste of love, the innocence of a smiling child, the colors of nature, a goodnight’s sleep, waking up to the chirping of birds, a clean bed, clean running water, a roof over your head ….. everything that the little boy in the refugee camp might never have.
Count your blessings. Take nothing for granted.