I’m writing this entry from my bed in Scotland. Unsurprisingly, it’s rather a different scene from what surrounded me when I last took a moment to reflect. The writing that covered my walls has been replaced with neatly-patterned wallpaper; the haphazard rugs and sleeping bags by well-matched furniture; the smell of kerosene by the smell of clean sheets. I suppose some might find the former more desirable, and others might prefer the latter. Just now I feel more inclined towards the former.
Coming back home has been both overwhelming and underwhelming. I suppose that this is because when you are away and you experience something first-hand, you somehow expect the world to have changed when you return. Alas, the opposite will almost inevitably be the case. Although there is comfort in the steady and familiar movements that characterise our lives in the UK, it is very difficult to enjoy this comfort when you remember that enjoying it puts us in the small minority of humankind. While we sit in our well-heated homes this winter, there are others who will feel the full weight of the cold as it immovably wraps around them. Only last week did news arrive of migrants who scaled the mountainous range between Italy and France, surviving with few warm items of clothing in -10 degree temperatures. And yet, here we are.
As a Philosophy and International Relations student, I am no stranger to contemplating the outrageous injustice that permeates our society, and moreover our planet. It is an injustice that has has always existed, and will always exist, it would seem. But perhaps the most stifling injustice of all is the way in which those who are fortunate enough to exist on the fortunate side of the coin do not even seem to realise that they are there. In a culture dominated by commercialism, technology, mobile phones and social media, there seems to be a growing trend towards acquiescence, and a form of numbness. No person in this country can be accused of being oblivious to suffering. It pummels us in the face day-by-day: whether it be the news-blasts that vibrate our iPhones; Jon Snow’s solemn gaze during the 7 o’clock news; or the homeless man in a ripped sleeping bag clutching his dog on the ironically named ‘Prince’s Street’. And yet it seems almost as if the more we to see it, the less we are shocked by it.
In terms of discussing the refugee situation, I have found increasingly frustrating the consistent claim that there is “no real solution” to the crisis, or that there is “nothing that can be done”. To me, these statements are inherently false: humanity made this crisis, and so can humanity solve it. There is nothing about it that exists outwith the humans that created it, and therefore nullifying the possibility of change is logically incorrect. I will, of course, admit that the crisis is huge and vast and that a solution will not come easily, but to deny even the very possibility of such a solution is to give up before beginning. Perhaps we negate the possibility of a solution to absolve ourselves of the guilt we might feel for living the lives we lead. Or maybe it is the constant apocalyptic language used by the media that instils this believe within us. But, for whatever reason it exists, this intense pessimism is in no way productive.
I am very wary of taking some kind of "moral high-ground" about this situation simply because I did a bit of volunteering: this disappointment in our society also extends towards myself. The guilt I feel already for leaving my friends in Greece behind as I return the the safety of my Scottish home will haunt me forever. And I hope that it does, because this will at least preserve some ounce of conscience within me. As a reader, you may respond like many of those I have spoken to about this feeling and insist that I “couldn’t do it forever”, and that “you can’t bear all of these burdens on your shoulders”. But I find these sentiments rather hard to stomach when there is so much more that can be done, and I could feasibly be doing it. There will always be reasons to come home, and reasons to change track; but this reality doesn't somehow magically extinguish the sense of responsibility that I'm sure lingers within any ex-volunteer.
I suppose, at the very least, I wish that people in this society realised what they have here. Failing to do so seems simply disrespectful towards those people who desire this quality of life so much. I recently watched a short film about Scotland’s ‘Right to Roam’ laws, which reduced me to tears as I realised just how lucky I am to be able to step out of my front door and just walk – anywhere. And not only that, I have a passport with which I can pretty much travel to any country in the world, with very few questions asked. Meanwhile, my friends in Nea Kavala might never gain a passport; and even if they are eventually granted protection by Europe they may be sent back to their wasted homeland at the drop of a hat.
It seems that, in order to gain affirmation on the preciousness of life, one must look to the places on this earth where it is so close to being lost. I don’t necessarily mean loss through death; it has been said many times that one can survive without truly living. I mean loss of life in terms of its worth and in terms of its fullness. Never has my own life and its various colours and flavours felt so precious as it does now, in the face of the darkness others must face due to mere chance of birth. This is not a declaration that every person in this society out to have a permanently fixed smile on their face due to their brilliant luck (God knows that isn’t how I feel right now). Nor am I saying that we are not justified in finding struggles or feeling low or depressed despite our privilege. I also recognise that this privilege does not extend to everyone within this society, and so this sentiment might not extend to everyone. However, what I mean to say is that we ought to permanently carry with us a knowledge that the life that most UK residents lead is not an inherent part of being human; the life we lead is a part of being an extremely fortunate human. We have been gifted with opportunities and advantages that others dream of day and night. It seems arrogant to forget this and even more arrogant to throw it away.
I’ve entitled this entry after a song that’s permeated my time in Greece. It’s called ‘The Breeze/My Baby Cries’ – the original is by Kath Bloom but I’ve also been swept away by the Bill Callahan cover. To me, this line “the breeze will kill me” represents the fragility of human beings. I’ve witnessed more strength over the past few months than I’ve seen anywhere else in my life, and yet juxtaposed with this strength is a persistent fragility that exists within all of us. Sometimes it feels as if a simple breeze could knock any one of us off our feet and away from safety. Recognising this is both frightening and deeply life-affirming.