And again, in Aleppo
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My Civic Workout: Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist. Keep loving, Keep fighting.
December 19, 2016
Over the past week the slow-motion nightmare that was the Russian-backed effort by the Syrian government to take rebel-held Aleppo reached its final days. In a block-by-block bloodbath, government forces cleansed the city, murdering thousands of civilians. Men, women, and children who had been trapped in the city for months were killed in an act that has been called the greatest mass atrocity of the 21st century.

Today we educate ourselves, bear witness, and work to prevent this kind of atrocity from happening again.
Let’s start by educating ourselves. What happened in Aleppo was just the latest, and most grotesque, assault in a years-long war. This four-minute Vox video provides an excellent primer on why Aleppo became the focal point of the Syrian Civil War and how so many civilians became trapped in the city with no hope for escape.
Bearing witness honors the lives of those murdered this week in Aleppo. It would be easier to look away, but we owe it to the victims to hear their last words. Thousands of Syrians turned to Periscope, Facebook Live, and Twitter to document the final hours of Aleppo using the hashtag #AleppoGoodbyes. Watch, and bear witness.
The Syria Civil Defense forces, known as the White Helmets, are an all-volunteer group of Syrian rescue workers. The group received widespread attention after their video of a rescue worker saving a buried two week old baby went viral around the world. Nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2016, the group has become a beacon of hope and a symbol of selflessness and bravery in the face of extreme danger. By their estimate, the White Helmets have rescued more than 70,000 people, often digging for days to free those trapped in bombed buildings.

To support the White Helmets, first go to, where you can sign a petition addressed to the UN Security Council, which asks for follow-through on its poorly-kept commitment to stop barrel bombs in Syria. Once you input your email address, name, and country, you’ll get the Syria Campaign “You can do more right now” email, which lists several actions you can take to, yes, do more. At this point you probably have 27 minutes left in your workout, so use this time to raise awareness by printing out and hanging 30 copies of this White Helmets poster in your area. Visit coffee shops, libraries, universities and schools--wherever people congregate--and make sure to ask the folks in charge if you can hang a poster. You may encounter support or hostility; use this as an opportunity to start up a conversation about the White Helmets.
A lot of misinformation has been circulated about the Syria Civil Defense forces, painting the humanitarian relief workers as terrorists. Much anti-White Helmet propaganda comes from the Assad regime itself and its sympathizers. This Netflix documentary, The White Helmets, shows this all-volunteer group in action doing exactly what they do: Organizing the rescue operations that have saved tens of thousands of lives as barrel bombs rain on Syrian cities. The 41-minute movie was a joint effort between US-based documentary filmmakers and volunteers within the White Helmets.



As the poet Mary Oliver wrote:
I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel,
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it –
books, bricks, grief –
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

(Excerpt from “Heavy”)
Today, we are mourning the lives lost in Syria, mourning our failure to act, and mourning our own powerlessness. Take a few minutes today to sit with your grief. You may wish to meditate, to light a candle, to draw or write in a journal, or to say or sing a prayer. When we acknowledge the worth of what we have lost, we keep alive our ability to respond to what is good and worthwhile in the present moment. We keep alive our capacity for joy.

The poem ends:
Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled –
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?

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