Four years ago, I wrote and published a poem called Crossing Borders. This was how it began…
'If I meet an Israeli, I will tell him I am not a terrorist. I am Palestinian.'
Amal, 9 years.
Amal, 9 years.
On a tiny strip of land,
miles you can count
on the fingers of your hand,
bombs are falling
to the rhythm of their own time.
They leave behind
nothing - only rubble;
if they could
they would even take the sand...
I wrote the poem because I was inspired by a little girl called Amal who was featured in a documentary about the children of Gaza. That's her in the picture above. She spent much of the documentary being ferried to doctors who could do very little about the shrapnel in her head, causing migraines and constant pain. I don't know if she is alive today. Or living and in more pain.
The big picture of human suffering is impossible to cope with. I cannot. But I am always listening for the voices, the ones who carry their story to me, to us, usually written on their bodies. In Dublin next month, Yaël Farber's Amnesty award winning play Nirbhaya arrives; described as 'a piercing scream of a play', it weaves the events of 16 December 2012, the brutal rape of Jyoti Singh Pandey, the medical student on a Delhi bus, who was nicknamed Fearless One by the Indian media, with real life stories of the actors, survivors themselves. Her death, her suffering, has allowed such stories to pour out of India - a country that contains terror and heroism in equal measure.
Another story has gained a different kind of media attention - the Hollywood kind. Esther Grace Earl, a nerd fighter and general all-round savvy, sharp-edged, gorgeous teenager died of thyroid cancer four years ago - August 25, 2010. Like so many others who have seen the film or read the book The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (that's him with Esther above, looking entranced by her, as I imagine all who met her were) I am discovering Esther. She was 16 and a few weeks when she died. John Green describes her as being wholly alive, even in her final days - even when she could not get out of bed, permanently attached to breathing apparatus, 'she found ways to be fully alive: to crack jokes, to love and to be loved. And then she was gone, all at once.'
She was a writer too, and her parents have just published her diary writings in a book titled This Star Won't Go Out (also the name of the charity foundation in her name) and the title strikes me as exactly right for all the individuals who suffer and strive for joy and leave a deep impression on our lives. Like Malala Yousefzai, also the Fearless One. I think Esther and Malala could have been soul mates. In an alternate universe…
Yesterday I was blowing bubbles with my twin nieces, celebrating the completion of the first year of their lives. Life is fleeting and we can live forever, both, all at once.