As I have done every day for the past two school years, I took care of my granddaughter today.
My beloved, sassy, funny, incredibly beautiful Ellie was here with me on this cold April morning. Her sweet baby brother, Johnny, was here, too.
Just as I do every day, I picked them up and brought them into my house. I settled them down to play in the living room, surrounded by all of their familiar toys. I went into my well stocked kitchen and made them a nice healthy breakfast. I sat with them, laughing and smiling as two year old Ellie chattered on about her imaginary friends and Johnny used both hands to fill his mouth with pancakes and blueberries.
When breakfast was over, I cleaned them both up, popped the dishes into my dishwasher, and got out some clothes for the day. We got dressed, we brushed hair, we made a plan for the day.
Because we live in Massachusetts, we sometimes watch a movie in the morning. It is too cold and snowy to go outside, and our indoor activities are a bit limited. So I settled Ellie in front of the TV to watch “Leap” and I put Johnny on the rug with his favorite cars and balls and drums.
And I opened my laptop to check on the news.
I saw the images from the Syrian gas attack.
I saw a tiny girl, probably two years old. Her hair was dark brown, like my Ellie’s. It curled around her face, just as Ellie’s does. Her eyes were closed, and the lashes that brushed her cheeks were long and dark.
She looked just like my Ellie, when she sleeps so safely in my bed, her pink cheek resting on my pillow.
But her eyes were closed in death. Her cheeks were ashen. Her body was still.
And my heart almost stopped.
I looked at her. I couldn’t look away.
I could feel the smooth texture of the skin on her tender chest. I could imagine, so clearly, the smell of her curly dark hair. I swear to you, I could hear her peals of laughter.
She must have had a grandmother who adored her. She must have had a mother who looked at her and asked the universe how it was possible for one human to be so inexpressibly lovely. She must have had a father who swelled with pride at each of her achievements. And a grandpa who turned into a puddle of foolish love whenever she turned that sweet face toward him.
Were they all dead,?I wondered. Was this little baby alone in her death, or did all of those who loved her so much die with her as the poison filled their home?
And I started to sob. I tried to hold it in, to let my own little ones continue to play in the innocence of an American morning. But I must have made a sound, because Ellie turned to look at me, her dark, dark eyes finding mine. “Nonni, why are you sad?”, she asked. I had no answer.
So I picked her up in my right arm, and settled her against my chest. I pulled little Johnny into my left arm, and held them both against my body. They squirmed and giggled, as little ones do when they are pinned in the arms of a grownup.
I leaned my face into them. I smelled the soft, clean, tender smell of their hair. I kissed the satin of their necks. I felt them breathing.
And I realized that THIS is why I will never again believe in an omniscient God who rewards us for living well. I will never ever believe in a deity who chooses who should live or die.
Because that beautiful little girl who died horribly was just as joyful and as lovely and as valuable as my own beloved girl. Her parents were no doubt just as loving and as good as my daughter and her husband. Her grandparents must have felt the same overwhelming love that we feel about our grandchildren.
I have to wonder. How can it be that humanity has lived this long without learning anything? How have we come to a place where we can visit other planets, solve the riddles of DNA, understand the workings of nature, yet we haven’t figured out a way to stop slaughtering our babies?
I refuse to believe that there is nothing we can do to stop this. I refuse to accept that our only recourse would be more death, more war, more killing, more dead beautiful babies lying in the arms of their dead parents.
If we can solve the riddles of genetic mutations, we can solve the riddle of human violence. If we can find a way to split and atom and find a way to destroy our planet, we can find a way to stop these mass murders.
Maybe we all need to see images of dead babies who look just like our own.
I don’t know.
But this can’t be the best that humanity can achieve.