I must confess that I have never been to Peshawar, the oldest inhabited city in South Asia. I’ve spent most of my life roughly 800 miles south of the historic city that recently suffered a massacre of 145 people, most of them schoolchildren.

But I have friends whose families come from that region; I have had the privilege to witness the hospitality and kindness for which they are known. In light of the recent attack, I have also seen their resilience as they cope with shock and loss. I embraced one of these friends at a vigil in Red Square, her body shaking like the flickering tapers of candles all around us.

I have never been to Peshawar; not many people who attended the vigil have. But when children are murdered in cold blood, spatial considerations and national identities are irrelevant. Such grief knows no boundaries. It does not pledge allegiance to proximity. It floods our being with a sense of irredeemable loss, the fragility of life, and the shame that comes with the realization that these were our children and we failed to protect them.

This realization first materialized as a black square of mourning: a friend’s profile picture on Facebook. It was the morning before my last final exam; I was frantically going through genetics flashcards with the computer in front of me when the black square appeared on my newsfeed, and I instantly knew something horrible had happened. Suddenly, #PeshawarAttack was trending.

I put the flashcards away and stared at the death toll, the digits like a slap in the face. Just then I knew how terribly lucky I was. I almost felt a kind of survivor’s guilt; I had most of my schooling in Pakistan, and I conceivably could have been one of those 132 children. I scoffed at our petty preoccupation with grades and GPAs when children such as these struggle in the face of death itself. With these brutal epiphanies pouring in, it didn’t make sense to study anymore. I shoved the flashcards into my desk drawer and wept quietly.

At moments like these it dawns on us how desensitized we have become to the violence that humans can inflict on one other. Consider the suffering of 16-year-old Sharukh Khan, one of the survivors of the attack: the militants shot him in both legs and he had to play dead to survive, shoving his folded necktie into the back of his mouth to keep himself from screaming.

Consider the suffering of ninth-grader Dawood Ibrahim, who overslept due to a faulty alarm clock: his entire class was killed and he attended funerals for six of his classmates in one day.

Consider the suffering of two boys whose mother, Farhat Jafri, a teacher at the school, was dead before they got a chance to say goodbye.

The word “terrorism” gets thrown around a lot, but one does not know true terror unless one experiences it firsthand. And yet, this was the closest I have and hopefully will ever come to experiencing terror: the black squares, the images of children playing dead, the recognition that something so mundane as a defective alarm clock may be the dividing line between life and death.

But among terror, guilt and grief, we must make space for hope. Even though the Taliban have promised more attacks on children if the government does not stop its operations against them, we must hope. We must hope that we can create a safe world and a safe future for our children. Without hope there is nothing.

Bassam Sidiki is a junior in the College.

 

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