It is neither my desire nor my intention to mislead anyone, so I will begin by saying that this post deals solely with my failure to realise my ambition to create and put in place a physical memorial to Alan Kurdi and to all those others who have drowned in the Mediterranean in their desperate attempts to come to Europe. If you wish to see what I had in mind, then you are welcome to scroll down to the end of this post to ponder it for yourselves, but as the subject of the refugees fleeing their homelands is so emotive for so many people, I wanted to examine at least one aspect of it in detail.
Throughout 2015, we’ve witnessed the appalling spectacle of mass drownings in the Mediterranean, while the myriad news reports on these catastrophes have made clear to us the toll they take on those who have witnessed these dreadful scenes close up and who have tried to help their fellow human beings in their hour of need. As the horrific details of each successive tragedy were revealed to us, when increasing numbers of people lost their lives in a single incident and when we learned of people being trapped and drowning below decks, for example, it was human nature to believe that things could not possibly get any worse, but they did.
In early September, we learned of the death of Alan Kurdi in scenes that the media rightly described as unbearable to witness. The sight of this toddler lying drowned on a beach provoked global outrage, with politicians publicly and forcefully addressing the matter of the refugees, private individuals starting petitions, the public generously providing money to charities trying to help the refugees, and artists and writers the world over creating works to express the shared sense of outrage and sorrow we all felt.
I wanted to contribute by using whatever gifts God has granted me to mark the passing of this poor child and all the others who have drowned in the Mediterranean. I also wanted to somehow bear witness to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of other human beings pleading to be allowed to cross the borders in front of them in the hope of finding a better life than the one they’d previously known and fled. I wanted to find a way to mark all these things in the form of a physical monument bearing an inscription, which would show that if nothing else, the world recognised the deep well of despair in the hearts of the largest movement of humanity since Word War II.
When I had decided on this course of action, it took me a matter of minutes to compose what I thought of as suitable wording for this monument, while it will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with my writing to learn that I immediately drew upon the work of a long-dead poet as the most fitting means of expressing the sentiments I had in mind. I envisaged a simple stone monument with these words carved into one face, so I thought of presenting this relatively inexpensive project on a crowd-funding platform, with any surplus funds to be donated to help the volunteers on the Greek islands who are trying to cope with the huge influx of refugees into their midst.
This seemed straightforward and I had no doubt that I would succeed in my aim, but then I naturally found myself wondering where such a monument would be physically located, if it were to mark the passing not just of Alan Kurdi, but also of all those thousands of other men, women and children who have drowned in the reaches of the Mediterranean ever since this vast exodus began. What would be an appropriate location and more importantly, who would decide this?
It would be all very well for me here in Britain to choose what I personally regarded as a fitting place, but it did not automatically follow that others in Greece, Turkey or on one of the many islands would agree with me for very good reasons of their own. I decided that it would be counter-productive and against the spirit of what I had in mind to explore this matter and thereby risk an undignified public disagreement with others, so my thoughts immediately turned to the UK, my home, as a possible setting for the monument I could see with such lucidity in my mind’s eye.
By pure coincidence, I’ve long had a great interest in the subject of visitors to these islands from the eastern Mediterranean in ancient times. One location above all others was in my opinion the perfect setting for my proposed monument, in ways that made historical, cultural and poetic sense, but once again, the stark realisation that others would not necessarily share my views on this matter prevented me from proceeding, although I must stress that I write this without the faintest trace of ill-will or resentment to anybody.
I do not believe that anything other than a tiny percentage of people anywhere would object, in principle, to a memorial to strangers being erected in their homeland or town. I may be mistaken, but I feel that most people in ‘the West’ generally link the souls of the departed with the physical locations of the stone monuments built in their memory, either in the form of headstones in cemeteries or else as the memorials to those who died in past conflicts such as the two world wars, which latter edifices exist in most towns and villages in Britain to commemorate those who left their beloved homes, never to return.
These are questions of faith and emotion as opposed to matters of cold logic, but it is nonetheless very easy for me to see that the act of putting in place a memorial in Britain to people from another land, when no such memorial for them existed elsewhere, might somehow seem as if we were removing their spirit or the memories of them from the places where these people were born, raised, nurtured and loved. No one would want to risk such a thing, least of all where children are concerned, so I soon saw that while my goal was born of generosity of spirit, it was profoundly flawed nonetheless.
As such, I abandoned my well-intended plan for no other reason than that I could not think of a physical setting for a monument to those who have died in the Mediterranean that would give solace to their grieving families and which would at the same time satisfy all those others around the world who wish to express their intense sorrow for the dead and for their surviving relatives. With this in mind, I’ve come to the conclusion that no physical monument is required, because the plight of these people has been seared into our collective consciousness, where they live on forever in our hearts and in our memories.