A woman in Gaza, who returned there last year to take care of her ailing mother who was not allowed to leave, describes the decisions she is faced with each night as she puts her three children (ages 2, 4, and 6) to bed.
My children used to talk about toys, “The Lion King” and books they were reading. Now they chat endlessly with each other about the war, bombings, shelling and the difference between F-16s and commercial jets. They want to know how many deaths or injuries occur after every strike.
Since our return, my children are constantly asking questions. Why don’t kids in Gaza have playgrounds? Why do children play in crowded streets? Why don’t their peers have enough food? It breaks my heart to answer these questions, but at least I know how.
The most painful question they’ve asked me is a response to our neurotic nighttime habits. One night, I make all three sleep in the same bedroom with us, hoping to increase the odds they’ll survive if a shell hits one of the empty rooms in our house. But then the next night, I’ll separate them, thinking that if I divide my children they won’t all die in an attack. (Unless we’re hit by a half-ton bomb, rather than artillery shell, in which case we’ll all be killed, anyway.)
For those who have never lived through wars, making this kind of seemingly rational calculation about who lives and who dies seems unbelievable but when you are in that situation you sometimes have no choice.
This essay also reminded me of Jane Alexander who, in the incredibly moving 1983 film Testament, plays a mother in the aftermath of a nuclear war in which the radiation fallout is slowly killing everyone in her small town, and has to make hard decisions about how she wants her own family to die.
In war, the macabre becomes normal.