I was doing business recently with a warm-hearted gentleman who for some reason I liked from the first time we met several months previous. At his place of business this past weekend his lovely 9-year old daughter was crafting and selling bracelets with proceeds going to the world-renowned Sick Kids Hospital of Toronto. I bought a couple for my children. I am grateful that this proprietor decided to share his very personal story with me. At the tender age of six-weeks his precious infant daughter required life-saving surgery. He told me that as one would expect, the families on this special ward became like family to each other. And then one day, he saw one of those fathers in the hospital parking lot placing his child’s wheelchair into the car. The child was nowhere in sight. I immediately sunk into despair. Just like you, I didn’t need to know the name, nor see a picture of the deceased child to feel the intense heartbreak at the human tragedy of a young child’s passing.
In my yet unpublished book, Us versus Us, I penned:
Several years ago I met a wonderful man. His name was Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish. I had heard of his story and was profoundly moved. He was a Palestinian doctor from the Jabaliya refugee camp. Tragically, three of his daughters and a niece were killed in a rocket attack in Gaza in 2009. As a father myself I could not fathom the depths of his loss. Certainly this man was entitled to hate. But I was frankly stunned by his generosity of spirit; he refused to hate. “If I could know that my daughters were the last sacrifice on the road to peace between Palestinians and Israelis, then I would accept their loss.” I read the book he wrote, I Shall Not Hate, and was deeply affected.
I was conflicted before I brought myself to meet Dr. Abuelaish. I was not quite ready – I didn’t think – to hear firsthand what I expected to be a devastating recounting of personal loss. His calamity took place in a war zone where clear demarcation points of “us” versus “them” were etched in my mind and without room for debate. The good Dr. at the time was in the “them” camp. I was in the other – on the “us” side.
I am finishing these words aboard a flight en route to Calgary where in a few hours time I will be an honoured guest at the convocation ceremony at the University of Calgary as Dr. Abuelaish delivers the convocation address and have bestowed upon him yet another honorary degree. I have learned much from Dr. Abuelaish. In his venerated presence I saw human tragedy in the absence of racial labels. There is much animosity in the Israeli – Arab – Palestinian ecosystem and in the past I was a part of it – not directly as a combatant or living in the Middle East, but in my run-of-the-mill life, within my social circle and woefully in my heart. Just as I wrote in an earlier blog concerning a recent visit to Dresden Germany – applying these labels to people we do not know harm us and I believe stunt our growth as decent and caring human beings.
I long for the day where we can all be as easily moved by a death in a war zone as we are by the death of that child at Sick Kids.