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A long road home

As she boarded the flight to Damascus, her heart beamed with love, pride and nostalgia. Aliyah was visiting her home in Damascus after a year. She was studying medicine in the UK—a childhood dream nurtured by her parents. As a daughter of academics, Aliyah was determined to follow in her parents’ footsteps. But the joy of this achievement was soon overshadowed by the worry for her parents’ life. Syria was in a state of great unrest.

Despite being aware of the prevailing situation, Aliyah was in for a shock as she walked out of the airport. The streets were dark, deserted, as if a pall of gloom had descended upon the town. The police cars were seen patrolling the streets. Oh my God! What if something has happened to mother and father? I need to see them! What do I do? Aliyah’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of prayer from the nearby mosque, followed by the sound of ambulances in the distance. She couldn’t breathe.

The panic was sinking in. She had spoken to her parents barely two days ago. And now, their phones were switched off. She wanted to run home to them. Distraught, she asked an officer for help. The officer seemed empathetic, rather concerned. He offered to drive her home but insisted on making a stop at the military camp first.

Flooded with doctors and nurses, the military camp looked more like a hospital. Not able to make sense of what was going on, Aliyah looked around like a child lost in a fair. The officer took her to a large tent with corpses in body bags. The sight of the countless dead was Aliyah’s worst nightmare. The officer told her about the missiles that struck the city the previous night, killing entire families in an instant. Barely a few had survived and reached the camp.

The officer’s expressions changed as he concluded the story. He hesitated as he handed a letter to Aliyah, his wrinkled hands trembling slightly. “Your mother gave this to me before she breathed her last. I am so sorry,” his voice broke a little. Aliyah gasped for breath. Mustering strength, one ounce at a time, Aliyah opened her mother’s last letter. Her final words were:

My dear Aliyah,

I hope, this letter will find you safe and sound. Looking at the tense situation, I don’t know if there is a tomorrow for us. If there isn’t, I want to tell you that your father and I are very proud of you. We are certain that you will become a very good doctor. But more than that, we are happy that you are a good human being. Always remember to stand for what’s right, even if it means standing alone.

As I write this letter, my darling daughter, I want to share a poem by Ben Johnson that has stayed with me ever since I read it as a child. Whenever you feel lost, read this. I am sure it will put things in perspective. It has never failed me and I’m certain it will not fail you either.

The Noble Nature
It is not growing like a tree
In bulk, doth make Man better be;
Or standing long an oak, three hundred year,
To fall a log at last, dry, bald, and sere:
A lily of a day
Is fairer far in May,
Although it fall and die that night –
It was the plant and flower of Light
In small proportions we just beauties see;
And in short measures life may perfect be.

With all my love and countless blessings,
Mama

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