I look out and see this rubble in the backyard and cannot help but think Alepo. The pile of concrete chunks with mangled wire jutting crookedly out of them recalls a photograph by Ameer Alhalbi headlining USAToday.com on Monday, September 12, 2016. In the picture two young men, each with an infant girl nestled in their arms, walk through a street in the Salihin neighborhood of northern Alepo. The road itself, covered in concrete debris and dust, is not visible. A downed wire cuts through the small space between the men. One has passed it, the other hasn’t yet. One baby looks fussy as the man carrying her looks both numb and determined. The other baby girl, smaller, perhaps a newborn, has her face turned in to the man’s chest. His concentrated gaze is at his feet as he navigates his next step on the uneven surface. It might be like trying to cross a creek on wet mossy stones (with a possibly-live wire in front of you and bombs possibly falling behind you) while holding a baby–no good view of your feet, no free arms to extend for balance.
Here in my backyard I have a small work area vaguely resembling a war zone. It is bordered by mowed grass, a butterfly garden, shrubs and a roomy house. I don’t worry that there might be life buried under the concrete debris. No person or animal will call out to me as I walk past. I don’t have to scramble over the these pieces to scavenge for food. My pile of rubble is not the remains of my home, my life, my shelter*.
Our concrete pile is not the effect of air raids but of the laborious chipping away of a slab that was under a deck. The slab was part of a dog pen for a German Shepherd that once lived and died here. She was laid to rest next to the concrete we were told. Let’s hope when the work crew builds the new stairs they won’t find bones. I hope I’ll remember to warn them.
Our rubble is the work of a gardener removing the old to make room for something better. He wants a ground-level space to better enjoy the butterfly garden. He wants us to sit among his flowers rather than above them. He wants his plantings to be a hedge, a barrier from the sights and sounds of the street. He wants an Eden-esque retreat back here. The pile of concrete is the early work of renovation, the casual weekend work of happy destruction. With the heavy swing of a sledge hammer and the fierce pinch of a wire cutter he sets the ground free. He makes tidy, manageable mounds ready for haul-away. Before the snow flies, if all goes as planned, there will be a new set of stairs and a patio.
In Alepo there is no hope for better. There is only the ruin of war, the panic of survival, the dream of escape, the memory of the lost.
Maybe somewhere here in the gut of America there is a small belief in what a few lone voices have mentioned–that US military involvement in the Middle East has contributed to that region’s instability. That we, with our military might and prowess, have some responsibility for a refugee crisis, a civil war.
Decades ago did we not train Osama Bin Lauden? Did we not make the choice to unleash the dogs of war in retaliation of hate fifteen years ago? Did not our Commander-in-Chief tell us to carry on and go shopping? And who are we fighting now–fifteen years into our war on terror? Who, specifically, is our enemy?
To know that photograph was taken on September 11 is haunting. Something more than irony or coincidence connects our fifteen year old photos of dusty, tear-streaked faces walking over fallen buildings with the four in this new photo taken half a world away.
*although a large salamander living under the cement slab did lose his home in the ordeal
I am indebted to Kate Bowman-Johnston. Her September 12, 2016 Facebook post made an initial connection between Alepo and the fifteenth anniversary of 9-11.