This piece was inspired by my unforgettable experience as a Medical Reserve Corps volunteer at the Philadelphia International Airport, where efforts took place in August 2021 to respond to arriving evacuees from Afghanistan. The world looked on with stunned disbelief as Afghanistan fell rapidly to the Taliban within just a few whirlwind days, and as thousands of desperate civilians scrambled to escape the sudden grave implications for their lives. American aircrafts evacuated hundreds of these distressed people at a time to various airports in the United States, with each arrival warranting immediate medical response and assessment. I had the humbling opportunity to join fellow Temple medical students and staff in providing this response for Philadelphia arrivals and in welcoming this unique, historic group of people to America.
In a hybrid space of civilian travel, military operations, and medical triage, I met scores of people who were unquestionably traumatized, many recounting harrowing stories of family separation and their reluctant departure from their homeland. These stories were especially resonant with me, as over forty years ago, my own family had fled Afghanistan on foot during the Soviet War. Over the years, I have often wondered what course my life might have taken if they had not made it out. My time at the airport was therefore a strange confrontation with anxieties about the future, hauntings from a collective past, and the sobering realities of the present. Though the experience often felt fragmented and disorienting, it also helped elucidate possibilities for better outcomes and left me with the enduring understanding of what it means to be in the service of someone in need.
With this poem, I tried to paint many feelings all at once – the observation of upheaval and displacement, a traumatic end flowing into a new beginning, and the desire to heal. It has allowed me to reflect upon the ways many others navigate the profound events of our time, and how we can better understand and be there for them.
Now is the bluest hour
At the edge of gone and almost there,
Where names and tears and hands exchange,
And what we break we must repair.
Inside a furtive space, we wait
To usher souls in, try to mend.
Though, meager are our hands on wounds
Too deep to comprehend.
But in that twilight space, we find
A stunning glimpse at life anew,
And listen for its quiet drumbeat
Till it joins our strange milieu.
This journey is not seamless.
It staggers at every turn,
At every gate and heavy drape –
Terrain nor time, discerned.
And now, this all is one blurred stroke
Of color, sound, and dreams unfurled.
I am falcon and falconer, too,
Divided in a deafened world.
Those departed need no pity,
Though they arrive to unknown seas.
Remedy those left behind
Who sift through cold debris.
We wait, we wait for no one.
Nothing recovered nor contained.
What is always going, going