Stars and Aleppo

By Sally Holland

Back when I was younger and had more romantic ideas about love, I believed that when lovers were apart and they looked at the same star at the same time, they would feel the passion of the other. Even for lovers who had yet to find each other, the connection of that star would be a sign of hope for things to come. Disney may have introduced this idea into my immature brain with the song “Somewhere Out There” from the movie An American Tale in 1986. In the story, the lovers, who were mice in the Disney world, felt better just knowing that they might be wishing on the same star.

On a clear night, without interference from man-made light, a normal person can see around 2500 stars of the billions that scientists believe are out there. So even if, perchance, my love and I are looking at the sky at the same moment, the odds of us choosing the same star are miniscule. The star system seems to be an inefficient way to send good feelings.

Yet, even with this logic, there is still a comfort in just looking at the night sky. The stars are so far away as to be immune to the problems of earth. They are clean and immovable. In the stars, there is no hunger, no violence, and no war.

And that brings me to my second thought.

I’ve really been strangely upset by the situation in Aleppo, Syria, and I’ve been thinking about why.

There have been wars on my television for as long as I can remember. This one doesn’t have Americans losing their lives in battle. I certainly don’t feel threatened by it while I’m safely ensconced in my home in the United States. Like the other wars, it is only really part of my life during the two minutes a day I watch the video stories on the newscast at night. For this war, that even holds true for the 24-hour networks that have concentrated on covering the election, the latest craze in technology, or the latest shooting–be it at a movie theater, on the streets, or at a school. Two minutes per day is pretty much all you get.

One reason this one might be different because the people of Aleppo.

Prior to being bombed, Aleppo was a city, not unlike those in the United States. There were paved roads, working stoplights, both public and private universities, hospitals and nightclubs. It wasn’t an area of mud shacks and equally muddy roads. It was frighteningly similar to where I live. A friend of mine recently said Aleppo was much like Knoxville, Tennessee where I went to college, but I looked up the population numbers and it seems to have been closer to Houston, Texas–well over two million people before the war began. The population was educated and sophisticated.

Because it is in the Middle East, a place where religious beliefs seem to matter more than in the States, I feel I must point out that the inhabitants were a mix of both Muslim and Christian Arabs and other religious groups living side-by-side. They went to work, to the grocery store, and to concerts, just like I do.

Syria has archeological sites and antiquities that are thousands of years old. The United States has nothing to compare to the temples and fortresses that are being damaged or destroyed during this war. It is sad to see them go, but I wonder if the people of Aleppo would trade them all for a night of security in their own homes.

The violence started in earnest in 2012. Since then, estimates are that over 10% of the population has been killed due to war. Imagine how the U.S. would react if 10% of the people in Houston had been killed? Ten percent would be a loss of around 200,000 people in four years. That’s fifty thousand people per year. Feel free to do the math to figure out how many people that is per day.

Realistically, there is very little I can do to help those who live in Aleppo now. Because of a fear that terrorists might mix in with the refugees from Syria, my country is taking in very few of them. I would argue that although terrorists do have horrendously successful days, i.e. the Berlin Christmas Market, 9/11, the Bataclan, the Brussels airport, a good many of their days don’t go that well. In the Boston Marathon bombings, the terrorists killed three people with their two bombs. On the day of the Bataclan in France, at the Stade de France (sports stadium) three suicide bombers killed one bystander.

During 2016, Houston is on a pace to have 323 murders–none of those from terrorism. People who already live there will commit those 323 murders. How is a terrorist murder different than that of a normal citizen? A death is a death regardless of the political statement. We somehow accept the murderers already among us but won’t take the chance on people fleeing a war zone, the vast majority of which are non-violent, hence the reason they want to leave the war zone in the first place.

This is a quandary for governments and not something I can solve.

I started writing about stars and Aleppo because I planned to suggest that on Christmas night we all look up at the sky and via the star network, we try to send our hope to the people of Aleppo–to remind them that where they are now is not where they will always be. There are places in the world that don’t fear bombings and violence. Someday, we hope they will find one of those.

I realize this won’t work. There are only 2500 stars to be seen in the sky and that will only cover a small portion of the millions of people in and from Aleppo who need that hope. And there are others–not necessarily from Syria–that need hope as well: abuse and rape victims, meth addicts, those suffering with cancer, living with depression and the list goes on.

Then again maybe…maybe…if enough people can send their hope up to the stars, maybe it will reflect back down to those who truly need it. Or perhaps the hope will filter through the purity of stars and return to earth stronger so that it actually means something.

On Christmas night, look up to the sky and send your hope. If your world is cloudy, close your eyes and concentrate. Send your stream of hopefulness right through the clouds. Call it a wish, or a prayer. I think it’s what Christmas is all about. Hope.

For now, maybe it’s the best we can do.


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