They are all gone now, and perhaps it is a small mercy. For them to witness the current state of the world would be heartbreaking. My dad was in World War Two. My grandfathers were in World War One. My oldest brother was a commando and a peace keeper. But I did not know these things. I was not there.
Today I cannot imagine the rage, the hopelessness, the unbridled fury in Ukraine. I cannot fathom the agony, the anguish, the violation. I cannot imagine. I cannot know.
To have homes and churches, theatres and mosques bombed to oblivion; to be victims of ego, of grotesque, violent greed, of narcissism run wild; to be forced to flee; to see family cut down in the streets; to search for food, for water, for bandages; to dig through rubble, hoping against hope, finding only despair; to know the sounds, the screams, the tears, the smells of war… I cannot imagine.
If I tell you that I know these things, ask me what war I was in, what conflict. Ask me gently, compassionately. Listen to the few words I might let crawl from my shadows into the light.
If I tell you that I know these things, that my relatives or friends are there, I do know in part. Be kind.
But if my relatives or friends are not there, if I have not tasted blood and smoke on a battlefield, I do not know. If I have not retched at the sight of lost limbs, of viscera glinting in air; if I have not shuddered at the unrelenting screams of the wounded, at the odours of blood and vomit and shit in the morning, I do not know. If I have not starved or fled, babies in arms, I do not know. If I have not suffered at the merciless hands of an invader, lost my home to a stranger, I do not know.
And I am grateful that I do not know.
The pictures, the videos are staggering, humbling, horrifying but until I am there, I do not know. So let my rage be enough to send aid. Let my horror be enough to open borders.
But do not let me say that I understand. Do not let me say that I know. I cannot know these things. I am not there.