The Ghost and The Fire
A Syrian Story
World Vision calls the situation in Syria “the largest refugee crisis of our lifetime.”
I sat in a hotel room, somewhere on tour with my band, watching BBC World News. Or maybe it was CNN, I can’t remember. A Syrian man, maybe early thirties, was being interviewed in a refugee camp in Lebanon. Interviewed is probably not really the right word. He was screaming, crying, wrapping his arms around his thin frame, rocking back and forth, just repeating the same words over and over.
I couldn’t take my eyes away from the screen. The camera eventually moved back to the reporter talking with a humanitarian worker who translated what the man was saying. It was “my family, my family, I have lost my family…”
Or words pretty much close to that.
Turns out he had lost his entire family – wife, children, parents, siblings – trying to flee the conflict in the north of the country. He was the only one to survive. And it seemed to me he was not laying the blame on the Government forces or the rebels. He was beyond that. He was blaming himself. And nothing could convince him it wasn’t his fault.
How do you live with such an unbearable burden? How do you survive, not only losing your entire family, but blaming yourself? How do you not want to blame someone else and seek revenge of the most violent nature? How do you become anywhere near whole again?
I’ve been to Syria. It was around 2004, and my wife Karen and I were on a cruise ship that had departed from Athens. We had stops at ports in Turkey and Egypt, but also at Tartus, the second largest port in Syria. Back then, there was no civil war, and to tourists like us, no hint of any trouble brewing. I’m sure there was, but you don’t think in those terms when you are sailing the Mediterranean on a cruise ship.
We had the opportunity to take a bus tour to Damascus, which was something we were really looking forward to, but unfortunately Karen and I had picked up a bug the day before, and we didn’t feel up to making the 11 hour round trip. We so regret that now, because the chances of tourists ever getting to Damascus again seem very remote – at least for a very long time.
So we sat in a café near the port, and quietly strolled around Tartus for an hour or so. After a while, with the bug wearing us down, we were standing in front of a general store waiting for a bus to take us back to the ship. It was a very hot day. There were a group of men sitting nearby on plastic milk crates around a makeshift table, playing cards.
One of them looked over to us, stood up and went inside the shop, and came back out with another milk crate. He pointed to it, smiled at my wife, and returned to the card game. A beautiful, polite, considerate gesture by a complete stranger from a supposedly male-dominated society.
What a tragedy that this once proud, historically important country is now torn to pieces, with something like 6.7 million people displaced. Terrible stories of families ripped apart, none more horrific than that of the young father I saw on TV.
I needed to tell his story in the best way I know, through song. “The Ghost and The Fire” is that story. The lyrics of the song are self-explanatory, the instrumental passage at the end of the piece represents the turmoil in his life.
Of course it won’t make any difference to what is happening in the country. I never expected it to. But he needed to be heard…..
There's a ghost in the corner, and she's calling my name
She's trying to tell me there's no one to blame
But nothing in this bind, will ever change my mind
It stays the same
There's a fire in my temple, there's just stone in my heart
There's a grievous temptation for a vengeful restart
But nothing in this grey, points another way
It stays the same
The ghost and the fire, long to retire
But not today
There's no hollow redemption, there's no graphic retreat
There's just fuel for the fire, and the banishing heat
And nothing in my fear, stridently comes clear
It stays the same
The ghost and the fire
Long to retire
But not today.....