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Mothers and fathers who “abandon” their children to save them

Afghan Moses

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27 August 2021

As much as we worry about reporting facts with words, there are images that are able to render an idea better than a thousand words. That is what is happening in Afghanistan these days. The tragedy and suffering is made more eloquent by the images of a thousand socio-political analyses, abounding in the media and the public debates of these days. Among this images there are two that touched the consciences of many people: a mother pushing her child over the barbed wire and a father lifting his child to a soldier on the other side of the barricade. What could drive a parent to do something so tragic, so painful? It brings to mind the gesture of Jochebed, Moses’ mother, who, driven by the same desperation, pushes her son into the waters of the Nile in a last attempt to save him. She abandons him so he might be saved. The emotional short-circuit lies in the juxtaposition of these two words: abandonment and salvation. I think that only a parent can understand the full extent of the pain of such a gesture. Yet in the tragedy of that separation there is a declaration of love: I am willing to let you go so that you may live. Too quickly in the biblical text we shift our gaze to the gesture of Moses, but I think we must find the courage to stop at the waters of the Nile that carry away the basket with the baby inside, while his sister Miriam tries to see where her brother will end up.

Sooner or later in life, in every loving relationship, one needs to reach the maturity of a similar separation: to let go so that life can become possible. But just as for Moses and for Afghan children, this gesture is not the celebration of a separation as the fruit of maturation, but a traumatic separation that is the fruit of violence and oppression. However, in our powerlessness we can become like Miriam and feel the responsibility of continuing to keep our gaze on these children to see what will become of them, and to try, like she did, to find a way for a necessary reconnection to happen.

Something similar is narrated in Cormac McCarthy’s novel, The Road. In an apocalyptic atmosphere a father and son try to save their lives by setting out on a journey they know little about. But in the end the father can’t do it. He feels he is at the end and urges his son not to give up, to continue, to go on even without him: “The man took his hand, wheezing. You need to go on, he said. I can’t go with you. You need to keep going. (…) This has been a long time coming. Now it’s here. Keep going south. Do everything the way we did it. (…) I want to be with you. You can’t. Please. You can’t. You have to carry the fire. I don’t know how to. Yes you do. Is it real? The fire? Yes it is. Where is it? I don’t know where it is. Yes you do. It’s inside you. It was always there. I can see it”. Once again history sets a tragedy before us. We have the responsibility not to extinguish the hope, of saving the fire, of protecting life especially that of the weakest, knowing that behind them there are those who are willing to sacrifice themselves so this may happen. The opposite of terrorism is this kind of love. Jesus himself love us with this kind of love.

Luigi Maria Epicoco