I am not a sentimental person, and yet the photograph of tiny Alan Kurdi, 3, has me in knots. The misery of it required strong medicine, which is my case was watching a YouTube video titled The Saddest Bookworm repeatedly until sated, which I am not.
The video, a hit since dropping on Monday, is about a baby who cries repeatedly when his parents reach the end of the seminal tale I am a Bunny, about a bunny who hops about, as bunnies do. So, eye roll, the parents have to start all over again.
The infant has fetishized the book to the point where the phrase “when winter comes” makes him gaze into the parental face adoringly. Then comes the emotional catastrophe of “the end” when he looks betrayed and erupts.
I was enjoying the baby’s outrage because it was the kind that is soothed within seconds, unlike Alan’s pain, and his family’s pain. As Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander said in 2014, furious at the Ontario government restoring health care for refugee claimants: “Simply arriving on our shores and claiming hardships isn’t good enough. This isn’t a self-selection bonanza, or a social program buffet.”
Alexander, now as then, was calling out to the Conservative base, presumably people who might or might not be sympathetic to Alan himself but are never soft about money. These people are sentimental, but only about “taxpayer dollars,” as they so endlessly refer to this special stuff.
But perhaps I don’t know myself. What choked me up was the photo of Alan and his brother in the company of their father. He had that look that small children have, a sort of dizzy loosey-goosey look that comes from the confidence of knowing adults are in charge.
There is a kindness in small children, an amiability, so that when an adult tells them to smile for the camera, they do so because why not. You can see Alan and his older brother, Ghalib, also drowned, posing with a stuffed animal with great gaiety.
They haven’t gone rigid the way adults do. They don’t know they’re going to die one day. They’re like animals — bunnies in fact — in that they aren’t braced for The End.
Cheap sentiment is awful. I’m avoiding it here. We’re all going to die, later rather than sooner, and if refugees, Syrian in particular, aren’t taken in, they will die sooner rather than later.
Women are said to be sentimental about children. A new online Angus Reid poll says Canadian men are twice as likely as women to say the migrants (their word, not mine) fleeing to Europe are “bogus” and many more Conservatives than Liberals or New Democrats oppose helping them. Conservative “supporters and leaners” were twice as likely to characterize migrants as “criminals or economic opportunists.”
Criminals? Goodness me. Extreme Conservatives do have feelings, but they’re nasty ones.
As for softer feelings, I read a new misery memoir last night, This is Happy, by Camilla Gibb, a Canadian novelist who has not had an easy time of it: difficult childhood, mental instability, a partner who dumped Gibb when Gibb was newly pregnant.
What struck me when I dropped the book on the floor at midnight was that it was entirely composed of feelings. Events occurred and Gibb had an emotional reaction, not an intellectual one, and the overall effect was strangely exhausting.
I don’t like this. I note that people often write good memoirs about their parents but almost never about their children. This is Happy so prioritizes feeling over thought, it becomes almost boneless.
It’s like saying “ISIS ISIS ISIS” the way Stephen Harper does on any matter east of Berlin. That’s as bad as looking at a dead boy without thinking about Sunni and Shiite, or the U.S. invasions of Iraq, or whether bombing civilians solves problems.
Without being either boneless or rigid, I say we should have let the Kurdi family in. I’m ashamed we did not. Since his sister is here, can we not bring Alan’s father, Abdullah, and his brother too from Germany to Canada? Syria is hell. This is a thought, based on feeling. Or it’s a feeling based on thought.
I want to look at Alan’s limp body with emotion, and still think about how best to help other children like him. I want intellect and emotion working together as the refugee crises gets worse.