A Video That Made My Mom Cry
It starts with a man speaking to the camera and a long line of kids appear to his right. Speaking in Pashto, the man introduces the kids: “their homes are destroyed in the war and they live under the blue sky.” He then names someone who he says sent his charity so that “500 breads be distributed to these children every day.” The video then shows the closeups of children sitting on the bare land, some in tattered clothes, gazing at the camera and smiling innocently. They appear to be 4 to 12 or 13 years of age, boys and girls, all in a tidy line. A small boy tries to carry a bare-footed toddler to the line, apparently to help him get his share of the bread. Next, an elderly man with four young boys appear while distributing one thin slice of bread to every child and as the shot widens two additional and equally long lines of more kids show with pinkish shirts of girls giving a colorful look to what’s each otherwise a coherent darkish line of little boys all clad in black and brown clothes. The video is shot in Afghanistan’s war-stricken Helmand Province on December 5th, according to the narrator of the video.
A friend sent me this video on WhatsApp, and I forwarded it to a couple of contacts including to my mother. A day earlier, I had sent her a video of my 2.5-year-old son showing his cute stunt as “a sleeping bunny” song from “Super Simple Songs” was playing from Alexa. The contrast between the two videos, as I looked later, was disheartening. Here was my kid happily playing on a red carpet inside a warm house with no concern about anything, and there were kids sitting on cold grounds anxiously awaiting to receive a piece of bread.
Next morning, a voice message from my mom was in my new messages. Sure enough, she started the message with a spirited voice praising her grandson’s performance, but towards the end her tone drastically changed as she started to talk about the second video. The message ended with her sobbing.
It’s okay for us to cry, as psychologists would say. We laugh and we cry, and both are natural emotional reactions. But to cause someone to cry, I think, isn’t good. So, I called mom to console her. “I didn’t send it to you, to make you cry. Remember when we used to wait in the long lines for the ICRC food distribution in Kabul? But, fortunately, we’re better-off now and life can also change for good for these kids as well. And, when you cry, you actually don’t help anyone. So, why cry?”
Indeed, to the friend who sent me the video I had written “from those kids will grow strong individuals, hopefully.”
Don’t know about the friend, but I wasn’t convincing to my mother.
In a mournful tone she told me something that struck me deeply: “it’s because we know how it feels to be like that that makes me cry.”
There it occurred to me why some people watch videos of atrocities, injustices and miseries of other people and simply move on unscathed while others drop to their knees, cry and spend hours, days or even weeks in pain. When Afghans, and for that matter people from other war-torn societies, try to convey to the outside world the pains and sufferings they endure in the war, what exactly their interlocutors feel and understand? You might have watched videos of people skydiving, but would it feel the same if you actually do it yourself?
This experience became more meaningful for me when I heard a conversation between Krista Tippett and Bryan Stevenson about love and motive. “We cannot make progress in creating a more just society, healthier communities, if we allow ourselves to be disconnected from the people who are most vulnerable: from the poor, the neglected, the incarcerated, the condemned,” Stevenson tells Krista. Even when scientists strive to find a cure for COVID-19, argues Stevenson, proximity — understanding the details of the pandemic with precision and clarity — has to be at the core of their endeavors.
My mother has rarely if ever left Afghanistan for more than a month. She’s in the midst of the prevalent miseries of war in Afghanistan. Lost loves ones, she’s also continuously felt every war-related misery just like most other Afghans. That’s why she cried when she saw that video. She actually felt the feelings of the little girls in the bread lines.
As for me, and the fact that the video did not make me cry, I took another lesson from my mom. She recited a poem from Rahman Baba which literally translates: a heart is heart when it feels the pain of another heart. A heart that doesn’t feel another heart’s pain is nothing but a black stone.
Here is the video. I’m not sure to wish you cry or not cry, if you would like to watch it.