Killing Shadows

After returning from the Middle East recently, there have been moments where everyday life in New York aligns -- or misaligns -- with everything I witnessed in my work with Syrian refugees in Jordan. In between the spaces of tragedy and stability -- the Middle East and America -- it becomes increasingly apparent how poor communications feeds the appetite of a status quo where violence and misunderstanding persist through the media and public discourse.

When we see divided societies -- cut from the same cloth (ethnically, geographically, religiously) -- attacking one another, what are we really seeing? Additionally, how are we as consumers and 'sharers' communicating? How can the status quo of violence between communities be broken?

On one particular day in Brooklyn, the innocent action of a young boy offered some insights to some of my questions. I witnessed this boy attempting to kill his own shadow while walking in the park. "Die!" the boy yells with each throw of a rock. Nature of course will not allow him victory. But each failed hit yielded further escalation and more rocks.

As the rocks danced upon the asphalt skin of the boy's own shadow, I could not help realize the symbolism linking the boy's harmless actions to the tragedies unfolding between intertwined communities in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and right here in America. There are raging conflicts between communities in these regions that are forever linked, like body and shadow.

The boy trying to kill his own shadow was like Hamas firing rockets into Israel, which should be communicated as Hamas firing rockets onto women and children in Gaza. Hamas's actions have the same effect, do they not? Israel dropping bombs on civilians in Gaza is the same as Israel harming its own citizens and values, no? Sunni-Shiite violence in the Middle East and South Asia symbolize Muslims trying to kill Islam. The international community failing the Syrian people is the world failing humanity. Gangs firing upon each other in Chicago's South-Side translates to America killing itself from within. America denying child refugees from Central America is America failing its own values and tradition. Perhaps communicating this narrative more often would help counter a status quo that for too long has passed down divisiveness, mistrust and violence.

Just as my natural observation of the boy and his shadow answered questions about how our actions are miscommunicated, within these natural signs are also the ingredients for peace and meaningful dialogue. Coupled with the boy's aggression are brief moments of peace as his own shadow dissolves into the shades of the surrounding trees. He is confused. But the shade from the angry sun calms him.

In the Zaatari refugee camp, there are no trees to provide natural shade for the thousands of children carting wheelbarrows and plastic jugs of water. And yet, in the face of loss and the angry sun, I witnessed the refugees finding shade in one another, and providing the hope that the other needed. On a daily basis, hidden from the headlines of chaos, the Syrian refugees withstand personal loss and the daily political failings of the world through the resilience of the human spirit. I regularly saw this every time a family shared their limited water supply with a neighbor in need, or when a refugee girl braved the sun to attend a workshop, despite the uncertainties of returning to her home in Syria and her school.

Similar acts of resilience and harmony have been reported from Jerusalem. Both the Israeli and Palestinian families of kidnapped and murdered children -- the Fraenkel and the Abu Khdeir families -- have come out against violence and revenge. They search for harmony in the crossing shadows of their loss. Politicians, fighters, activists should take note: these are flags of humanity to be raised high above the smoke and rubble of political opinions, bigotry and empty retweets or Facebook 'shares'. These are monuments of the human spirit refusing arrest by humiliation and helplessness.

In the relief of the shade, or rather, in our mixed shadows, we are one. Nature has deemed it so. Be it in Gaza... be it in Israel... be it Sunni or Shiite, these are like a boy throwing rocks at his own shadow; a boy throwing rocks at himself.