My son is 18 months old. It’s a great age, primarily because it means that it’s only a short while before we start measuring in years, which are much easier to remember. It’s also a great age because he’s starting to make his own choices: what he wants to eat and do, or as is more often the case, not eat and not do.
One of the ways he’s exercising his choices is his bedtime reading ritual. He loves picking the books to be read to him. For the poor soul who offers no choice or starts to read a book he’s rejected, comes the indignity of him climbing off your lap and carrying his preferred book to his newly-preferred reader.
One of the current favourites, by which I mean he picked it more than two nights in a row, is called Ten little fingers and ten little toes. It starts:
“There was one little baby who was born far away And another who was born on the very next day And both of these babies as everyone knows Had ten little fingers and ten little toes.”
Beneath the simple rhymes and beautiful drawings lie a profound truth, that we’re all human beings no matter where we’re from or what we look like.
But perhaps the most human part of all come at the end of the book, the narrator switches tack: “But the next baby born was truly divine, a sweet little child who was mine, all mine.” This child doesn’t just have “ten little fingers and ten little toes” but also has “three little kisses on the end of their nose.”
We have lot of books like this on our shelves. Books designed to let our son know how much we love him, how special he is, how much more than anyone else he means to us. It’s what all parents are meant to feel, isn’t it?
And yet this week, I’ve found myself struggling to read the last couple of pages.
The unfolding events around the world have changed something.
And I don’t just mean the mass response on social media.
Sadness and anger, questions of: “What can I do?” being met with links or lists, practical suggestions, email templates to send to our MP, promises of prayer and A4 pages reading “Refugees welcome” held in front of us.
The sight of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi lying on that beach, and the testimony of his heartbroken father have caused us all to rally around our common humanity. And for a few moments, days, maybe even weeks we’ll be talking, tweeting, sharing and forwarding anything that backs that up or reminds us of the fact.
And then something will change.
It might be next Spring when we question the influx of non-British acts on Britain’s Got Talent, or next Summer when England underperform at Euro 2016 and we’ll ask whether now is the time for a limit on “foreigners” in the Premier League.
It might be the next time we hear about someone we’re not able to deport because of their human rights, or the headline grabbing story of the British family forced to sleep rough while we give mansions, cars and massive payouts to people not born here.
Or it might be when someone with a different accent bumps into us on the bus, or someone with a foreign number plate takes the parking space we were waiting on.
But at some point in the future, we’ll forget our common humanity and will return to what we know best – ourselves.
And while we stamp our feet and condemn a government who aren’t doing enough to welcome strangers, we’ll keep our spare rooms made up in case our parents need to come visit or one of our friends ever needs it.
And while we profess all the things we share as human beings, we’ll continue to gather with others just like ourselves, grateful that we’ve found “like-minded” people who really “get us.”
And while Abdullah Kurdi continues to mourn, and tries to rebuild his life without his beloved family, I will go back to reading the end of the book and hearing my son giggle when I give him three little kisses on the end of his nose.