You’ll remember the bombing in Gaza last summer – right? Also, the Second Intifada, and First – perhaps? And, of course, you’ll remember the bombing of Manchester City Centre and the bombs in Hyde Park and the ongoing Troubles in Northern Ireland and the planes striking the Twin Towers and… and… shall I go on?
I test your memory because I am aware of how easy it is to forget.
I used to forget that my father served in Northern Ireland when it was not safe
to do so. His coming and going was the norm for us. It was only when I travelled
to Belfast myself in 2003 that I realised what a challenging place it must have
been to be (and still is for some). (You can see something more of my reflection on this theme in a Sermon I preached on Remembrance Sunday last year.)
Though I was not much more than a child when they took place, I do
remember, when I care to, the Hyde Park bombs, the Manchester bombing and the
way in which the fact that these attacks had come onto the mainland somehow made
‘us’ (the rest of the people of Britain) suddenly take them so much more
seriously. How soon, how easily, we forget.
There are, however, those who will never be able to forget – because of
the mental, emotional, psychological and physical scars they bear. I am
reminded of this by the child I met today – the child whom I shall call H.
H is a bright young man and, amongst his many skills, he is able to ask and answer questions in English and,
when bored of adults ‘showing off’ his ability to do this, is able to make it
more than plain that enough is enough. (Quite right!) Today H was studying the
Urinary System – drawing and labelling pictures, as well as describing
and discussing how it all worked. As a break from the intensity of the one-to-one situation
(now two-to-one as I was there) the board game version of Angry Birds was brought out. (I had previously confessed to the teacher
that I had Angry Birds on my phone until a couple of weeks ago. The time I spent
playing on it was not a good thing and there are far more instructive ways of
spending my time so I deleted it though!) in addition to some Biology and a
game or two, there was some dictation and a bit of spelling. Before needing to
come to the hospital, H was always top of the class – and I can see why. So why
is H here at the hospital in Beit Jala?
H has been here since last summer. He was out with his
brother when a bomb fell on the shop where they were buying bread. The shop was
in Gaza. H’s brother died instantly whilst H sustained injuries to his lower legs.
Following on from surgery there has been a lengthy period of Physiotherapy.
H is now able to get around independently with a crutch – but he still requires
supports on both his lower legs. Standing up is a bit of a challenge but he
gets on with it. Seeing H as he is reminds me of the conflict last summer – a conflict
that I haven’t forgotten but that does seem ‘of the past’ as time moves on and
so does life and so do we all. H, however, as with all who suffer during any
conflict – in whatever kind of way, whilst getting on with getting on, carry mentally,
emotionally, psychologically and physically the memories.
As I have travelled through today – and through the past days reflecting on issues in the news to do with IS in particular – words that have come to mind are those from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice and a speech given by
Shylock: ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed?’ (You can find the Scene from which
it comes here.) Shylock is speaking of the treatment of Jews – and he speaks too
of revenge, alas. Perhaps we could all do well, before taking up arms, before
speaking bitter words, before deciding we are better than others, perhaps we
could all put these specific words of Shylock into the mouths of those we are
about to attack in whatever way: ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed?’ If we
did this, maybe it would make a difference – maybe. As ever, it takes courage to
see others as human when they are different or distant or nameless to us. H bled,
as did his brother, as did and as do so many others in current war zones and
trouble spots. Seeing H today reminds me that I should not forget and that is certainly no bad or untimely thing.