Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Rant Against Apathy

I warn you, this is a rant. A rant driven by deep anguish, but a rant nonetheless. I wrote it during my senior year of high school, while applying to colleges. Westmont (in California) asked me to write an essay about something I was passionate about. This is what they got.

It may seem over-the-top. After three years in America, with distance and language between me and those children, I may agree. But at the time I wrote this, after six months of centering my life around that camp, these emotions were burned into my skin. It's hard to explain now, with essays due and finals looming, exactly what it was like then. When a harsh word against Palestinians, or a careless remark about the greatness of Israel, would send me into racking sobs. Have you ever looked at a child, and realized that they've experienced more pain than you can imagine? That they have no hope? I don't think heartbreak is ever more real than in that moment.

I wish I could revive this passion. Feel it as more than a memory. But America is deadly to real conviction. Of this I am convinced. What is it about this place that breeds apathy? Is it because we are so far removed? Because we are too comfortable? Too rich? We are so blind to misery -- and that, I think, is killing us. We take our own lives, not because we feel pain too strongly, but because we can't feel any anguish but our own. And that was never Christ's intent.

Karith A. Magnuson
Westmont College Application
Essay 2 (a)

Introductory note: I have grown up in the Arab world my entire life and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has always been a major issue of discussion. In tenth grade I studied the conflict intensively and read many books and arguments from both sides. I also did two short term service trips to the Bourj al-Barajneh Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon to work in a preschool/kindergarten there. Last year (in eleventh grade) we moved to Lebanon (spring ’04) and I worked weekly in the same camp, a major part of which was still in the preschool. I know that there are two sides to this story, but this paper was not written for the purpose of arguing those sides. It is simply my response to what I have seen with my own eyes, and is meant to be nothing more, and nothing less.

* * *

Heavy drops of tears run down my cheeks. Life isn’t fair and don’t just say it’s true. I’ve seen the eyes filled with tears, I’ve kissed the faces that won’t smile. Don’t tell me God intended it to be this way. Don’t say that He just loves some people more, and others less. They’re beautiful, they’re perfect, the tiny hands, the tiny feet. God made us all and yet we get things with our birth that they can never have. Why do we learn to love when they must learn to hate? Why are we born with hope, when there isn’t any left for them? Must it always be this way? Must childhood be stolen along with heritage and dreams? My soul cries, “No!” My heart bleeds, “No!” And I long to scream, “Oh Lord! How long must it go on?”

Aren’t we all children of God? Weren’t we all created in His image, with the ability to think and reason, the capacity to love, and a soul to long for greater things? Why must one people always strive to destroy another? Why do they succeed? Why have we learned to look the other way? I was always raised to believe that there were certain things that every person had a right to, things like education, liberty, and hope. Why didn’t someone tell me that it was all a myth? Why didn’t anyone explain that the colors of one’s flag are seared into one’s skin, and that the faster one withers and dies the sooner one need not feel the pain?

Over forty thousand people live in one square kilometer, unable to work and denied education. They have no citizenship and yet the name of their nation has branded them forever inferior, dangerous, and hateful. They have no electricity or running water, or even streets on which to play the greatest sport in the world [1], and so they play marbles instead. A whole generation has grown up in this camp, with no hope, no identity, no voice, no future and no way out. Their children and grandchildren are now learning the lesson too—learning what it means to be associated with their history and their pain. By three years old many of them have forgotten how to smile, or maybe it’s simply that they never learned. And what about the rest? Those few children who refuse to give up, who still laugh and play and fight for their right to a childhood. What of them? What will become of them when they discover that the world will not have them, whatever their potential and their dreams? What will they say when they realize that they, just because they are different, have been denied what others are born with? How will they say it? What if it’s with rocks and hate, guns and bombs? I suppose then we will know that we were right.

In the gathering darkness I see the silhouette of a cross and the wood is drenched with blood, and every precious drop was shed for them. What would He say to us if He saw what we, the world, have done? What will He say to us? I don’t think He will say a thing. I think He will just weep, a silent drop for every moment of their pain. They are His children, whatever we have let ourselves believe. They don’t belong to us, or to hate, or to terrorism, or to despair, or even to Palestine. They are His alone, and I fear the cost for the pain they have suffered will be dreadful indeed.

[1] All Arabs everywhere play soccer, or real football, no matter how poor they are. If they don’t have a court they play on the street, if they don’t have a ball they make one with tape. Not being able to play football is a huge blow to Palestinian boys

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