empathy

My life in Sarajevo, where the only law is the smoking metal at the end of a gun

Artwork by  Morgan Phillips

Artwork by Morgan Phillips

I came from a country ravaged by war and it’s hideous manipulations of the human spirit. In my city, Sarajevo, people were destroyed for aspiring for the essential things humans to survive: food and water. Their bodies, cold – starved – and dry urged them to risk all in the alleys of snipers and fields of land mines, just for a chance at some nutrition and more importantly some hope.

 

Imagine what it would be like to wake up in a place without the rule of law – the only law was the smoking metal at the end of a gun.

To wake up in a place where there was no common spirit because the country has turned on itself from within. Deserted apartments where you used to play cards with your friends are as barren as your hopes for the world outside. The symbols of youth, celebration and life once casting great shadows over the river, now burn silently into the night. Our great mountains, just two years prior a home to the world’s best athletes, are now traitors, shielding the people who catapult grenades through your windows. A place where you laughed till the early hours of the morning with the same people you’re now trying to find shelter from at night. A time where love is the only source of spiritual and mental energy – it is the only thing that carries you through your days.

But, I unlike many others survived. My parents sacrificed so much to arrive safely into the warm embrace of Canadian society. From the shores and cliffs of Nova Scotia to the greenbelt of Ontario, we forged a place for ourselves here. Through the courage of friends we didn’t know, people who extended their gracious support and the unrelenting, primal bond of family we were safe – we were happy. Our lives here were enabled by the very ties that broke our last country apart.

These things are reality to some, and fairytales to others. I wake up every morning with the realization that Canada is unimaginably lucky to hold such powerful benefits and freedoms in our world. It is, in my opinion, the soul and essence of Canadian life: the humanitarian spirit, the willingness to be better and the obligation to serve as a beacon for the rest of the world to see in times of darkness.

I see many of the families in my neighbourhood from different countries, unable to speak English and wading through the lavishly green and wide streets – together – exploring the subtle pleasures of their new lives. These families are from Syria, they are from Iraq and Colombia, they are refugees and people looking to be free from the violence that plagued their past. And in them, I feel I will always see myself – smiling with my cousin while we rush into the video store to imbibe on the rite of passage made possible by the Super Nintendo. We were shielded from the 12-hour shifts my dad pulled at the grocery store, working minimum wage while his mind raced the imagination of a civil engineer. I never felt like I didn’t belong, because my parents fought for my space at the cost of their careers and free time.

In the refugees who have died, the pictures we see circulating of children drowned in beaches, I see everything that they could have become.

Their lives never got to mature like mine, they never got to feel the power and rigour of philosophy or the taste of romantic love; they never got to experience their first night out as adults with their friends, the world awaiting their input, their thoughts, their desires and contributions. They have been denied the chance at the unmitigated pleasure and wonder that is a full life. A million dreams snuffed out, a million laughs silenced.

For what? Religion? Politics? The power of a few men? The profits of a few war-mongers? It is cruel, in the fullest sense of the world, and few things in life are so cruel.

We can only take their history with us into the present, and enshrine the future with their memories. War is not the answer, it never was and never will be. I was lucky in 1995 the day I came (December 6th – the same day that Canada sent 1,000 UN peacekeepers to Bosnia) that a government sympathetic to the fight for peace was in power. If it were different, I might not have been here to share this message with you. But, I am here – and this is a duty of mine, to share this with you.

You are powerful, in your words and in your deeds, never forget it. You are the result of billions of years of life, uniterrupted: a chain which holds the remnants of stars that have shared their light from eons in the past. Your story is the story of me – of us – and it is a story which will be told for generations. The scars that have damaged our cities, our spirits and our memories are not wounds – they are an affirmation of life, a mark of us bearing witness to all that has transpired. Embrace your lineage – you are human, and we are human – and together we will find a way, and we will endure.

Submitted to ArtParasites by Sandro Pehar