This is Omran Daqneesh, a five-year old boy pulled from his bombed home in August after a Syrian government or Russian backed airstrike in the northern city of Aleppo. He was one of 12 children under the age of 15 treated that horrific day continuing a half decade war that has reportedly killed over 5,000 children.
Yes, this is only one of many wars raging around the globe but what makes this one different is the military tactic of “double-tapping” hospitals and other places of refuge. A bomb drops and while doctors, medics, civilians and humanitarian relief workers rush to the aid of the injured another bomb is dropped to stop them, dead. I read one report that said a mere 30 medical workers are left to care for the sick, injured and dying. Decisions must be made to allow the most seriously injured and elderly to die so that attention can be given to the young and those with a fighting chance for survival.
Sadly, we are used to gruesome images of war more horrifying that that of young Omran like the other little boy named Alan whose body lay still, as if sleeping, on a beach after his Syrian refuge family was swept into the water while trying to escape to safely and solace in Europe on a smuggler’s ship.
Omran, was pulled from the rubble and placed in the back of an ambulance. Bloody, dazed and covered in dust he appears emotionless. Shock prevents him from crying. All he can do is stare back out of the world in disbelief. All we can do is look at him and wonder when the world went mad.
For me, a Christian, I think of the words of Mother Teresa, “Jesus comes to us in his many distressing disguises.” And I remember the words of Jesus, “when you’ve done it to the least of these you’ve done it to me.”
Omran sits larger than life in the oil painting I have nearly completed of him. His dazed stare challenges the intention of my day and questions the meaning of my life. His eyes follow me around my studio while I work. I sometimes stand in front of him and ask him questions, “What are you doing now? Are you well? How are your family and friends? What will you grow up to be like? Are there people in your life who will point you to the way of peace or will the militants find you, give you the attention you so desire, fill your life with purpose and someday point you as a weapon back at the world?”
I still don’t know why I painted Omran. I had already sketched another subject matter on this canvas, a light and lovely pastoral scene. But I was blocked by something, someone. I quickly sketched Omran’s image over what I had already drawn and three days later he was in the studio with me.
I’m not a political activist and I don’t know what to do with all this. I’ve spend the last few days in multiple conversations and email exchanges trying to figure out what to do next. Write my congressmen? Start a non-profit for Omran? Stand on a street corner and hold this image up to pester unsuspecting people—like me? Volunteer in some way to be part of the humanitarian effort needed in Syria? Shrug my shoulders and move on? No answers.
And so I simply hold the image up for myself and others to see so we don’t forget Omran or his people. That’s all I seem to be able to do right now. So I hold his image up for me and you and the world. And I pray and invite you to do the same. Oman speaks through a silent stare. What is he saying to you?