(The Hamilton Spectator – Saturday, August 29, 2015)
HAMILTON, CANADA ✦ If you were a lion you’d have little in common with any little girl, unless it’s the summer of 2015 when you could both die horrible deaths on the other side of the ocean and people on this side would know.
If your name was Cecil, they’d know, anyway, how you, a protected lion, were hunted and butchered in the savannah of Zimbabwe by an American dentist who had nothing better to do.
Now you’ll know about the little girl.
Her name was Baraah Fakierah. She was as ordinary and remarkable as any little girl, ten years old, big brown eyes, a beautiful smile, this spirited girl living in Sana’a, Yemen.
Then the bomb. It plowed through her home. Her father died trying to protect Baraah from the fire. And a crowd-funding campaign got her to Amman, Jordan for emergency care for severe burns. Still, the girl died. She was, as the say, collateral damage.
“She suffered terribly,” Walid al-Saqaf, her uncle, told me. Walid, a name you might recall from this space, was my newspaper colleague while we worked together in Sana’a for some years after 9-11.
We talked recently about it all: Baraah’s death, the broken dream of Yemen’s unification, the so-called Arab Spring and the regional stakes – Iran on one side of Yemen’s civil war, Saudi Arabia on the other – Yemen’s southerly waters so vital for moving oil to the outside world.
We spoke about how in today’s Yemen you’ll need a bag of gold to get a cup of water, never mind a cup of fuel. Then more on the horrible face of war. Walid owned that Sana’a house bombed with Baraah and her father inside.
Now in Sweden as a professor of media research, he’s creating the Baraah Foundation. It’s to help war children, to help them get life-saving medical care away from the fighting.
The UN estimates a billion children live in or near conflict zones, many of them burned and maimed and shot dead because this is modern war where civilians, mostly women and children, are killed far more than soldiers.
It’s another reminder, if anyone needs it, that evil does have its day in the sun, the sort of evil that kills lions and little girls indiscriminately. Even so, these lion-like spirits remain.
One is from the world of literature. His name is Aslan. He’s C.S. Lewis’ Great Golden Lion of Narnia, that good but dangerous lion (is any lion not dangerous?), a lion not beheaded and skinned like Cecil, but muzzled and shaved and mocked by his enemies – “Why, he’s just a cat!”
Then that awfully great lion death when that witch plunged her long knife into his golden lion heart. The story’s children watched in horror. You can imagine the tears. Just like you might imagine that, despite evil’s successes, this is not the end of the story.
It never is. Not in literature. Not in life. Not even in war. Not given enough time.
In Narnia, where the animals and children work together remarkably well, it was magic, a deep magic from before time and before death, that would unravel the darkness. It’s what Tolkien later called “eucastrophe,” catastrophe reversed, unimaginable good coming from unimaginable pain, especially in the mystery of an innocent life given.
Of course, you’re no lion. You’re not that dangerous. (Yet you are.) You’re not as rare and beautiful and majestic as a lion. (Yet you are.) No, you’re no Cecil, never mind any Aslan, any more than I am. (Unless you have a problematic Messiah complex.)
You’re just who you are, like me, a son of Adam or a daughter of Eve, in the thick of it, up to our necks, just trying to find home, sensing in our best moments what Baraah now must see clearly, that eternity is written on our hearts.
Eternity on the hearts of lions and children. And the money. Cecil’s death has raised about $800,000 for the Oxford team that had studied him. This too is how this old world works. I mean, give the lions what belong to the lions. And give the children of war what they need too.
To learn more, go to “Support the Baraah Foundation” on YouTube.