A Meaningful Exchange: Taking Responsibility and Giving Back

Büşra Demir
7 minutes

I have a ball of emotions left over from the morning of the earthquake when the Anatolian soil was wet with tears. It’s such a ball, knot by knot. Fear, anxiety, hope, despair, anger, joy, excitement, helplessness, disappointment, grief, sorrow, guilt, remorse… With so many emotions together, it is impossible for them not to touch each other, not to become knots.

In the first days, while social media and television swirled in front of me and my heart was in knots, time froze and flowed with my children playing next to me. I couldn’t leave, I couldn’t stay. Moreover, I couldn’t even put a single word on the page that could lighten this knot a little.

Weeks later, my words are slowly coming together. It has always been healing for me, maybe it will be healing for you too.

A human being is often a being that learns through difficulties. As the story goes, a frog fell into a hole in the road, jumped and jumped and couldn’t get out. At the head of the pit, other frogs were saying ‘you need to jump a little more’, but to no avail. After a while a car appeared on the road, getting closer and closer to the pit. The frogs outside called out, ‘the car is coming’. Hearing this, the frog jumped with all its might and got out of the pit. When the others asked, “How did you do it?” the frog said, “I had no choice. Like this frog, sometimes you have to fall down to the bottom to jump. Maybe you have to face difficulties in order to learn something from life.

If you ask me what I learned, I would like to tell you about the lines that I came across as if in response to my despair during the first days of the earthquake. It is a deeply personal story, but sometimes what one person experiences can become a talismanic touch on someone else’s soul.

During the two days I was glued to the screens, it was like being handcuffed, not being able to reach out a helping hand to those I saw, not being able to light even a candle for them. Once again I felt deeply how miserable it is to watch from afar as disasters unfold. While there are so many wars, massacres, famines and disasters in the world, it turns out that people remember their humanity only when they witness such a devastating and close one. Perhaps this is much better for our mental health.

Back to my story… On the third day, I found myself in the nearest help societies because being at home with my family was not enough for me. I thought it would be good to take action to untie the knotted ball that had accumulated inside me. But it is interesting that there were so many beautiful people serving there and I was just a crowd among them. I wandered around for a while, looking for help, but in the end I returned home with my neck bowed and my hands empty. In great disappointment, I went to the window of my room, raised my face to the sky and asked:

“Why can’t I help?”

There was a deep heartache and sincerity in this question. My bundle of emotions was most full of despair at that moment. But I was unaware that the answer would come very soon and enlighten me.

Trapping my eyes on the screens where millions of stories were crammed made me feel much more pessimistic, helpless and inert in those days. A voice in my mind telling me that I was of no use began to pull my soul into the darkness one by one. It was a feeling I recognized from the past. I knew very well that this darkness could easily swallow me, and I sensed that I had to shake it off. I had to go back to myself, read or write something.

At that moment, not coincidentally, I felt like opening Holy Quran. Pages that I have wanted to read literally for a long time, pages that I once started and left unfinished. I opened it and started reading. That’s when the answer to my earlier question came to me. It read; “If you want to benefit society, first fulfill your own responsibilities.”

Some may take this as a coincidence or as a general admonition, but as a firm believer in divine messages, my knots began to unravel with this line. First, I felt that I had to return home mentally and physically to fulfill my responsibilities as a mother. Then, through another event that I cannot call a coincidence, I realized the need to stand up, this time as a daughter. It was written in my heart with an invisible pen that sharing the pain, hugging each other, continuing to live life in order not to put children in that darkness, explaining to them the reality of the disaster and how important it is to work honestly, meritfully and properly in order to live with this reality is also a kind of citizenship, humanity and above all a duty of servitude. I saw a picture of how keeping morality alive in children and even adults can keep a society alive in the future. As I kept turning over and over in my mind the phrase ‘First morality collapses, then buildings and people’, I thought about ways to spread morality, starting with my own children. And I reminded myself again that the first step to do this is to start with my own morality.

The sentence I had just read would not be able to take its form, and days later I came across a person in distress, independent of the earthquake. I helped in my own way, but at the end I felt a sense of unease. Where has it ever been seen that helping gives peace of mind? In the hours that followed, I realized both in my heart and with the warnings of those close to me that the person I was reaching out to was not trustworthy. And it reminded me of that sentence again;

“If you want to benefit society, first fulfill your own responsibilities.”

All these experiences were for me part and parcel of the advice: ‘Help should start with those closest to you and expand in circles’. In the selection of teachings that fell to my share, there were the dangers of having good suspicions as well as bad suspicions, that there is a responsibility to help starting from the family and extending to trusted people and institutions, and that sharing the pain is one of the most valuable forms of help.

I have repeatedly tried to remind myself that it is for the best if everyone contributes according to their means. I had to accept that it might not be my place to help in forms that exceeds my own limits, to witness first-hand the moments of trauma, and that maybe I was not capable of it. These days, I often try to remind myself of this.

In the first days of the disaster, as the news kept flowing, tangling my emotions in knots, I can’t help but mention how listening to our hopeful elders brought me back to life. Their instillation of hope, love and goodness was so precious when we were floundering in the seas of pessimism… They are the hopeful stars who do not call “irresponsibility” as fate, who remind us of the necessity to fight against injustice, who are confident that ease will come with hardship, who know the power of the language of love and solidarity. I’m glad they exist.

I would like to end this article with a quote I love very much;

“The darkness is most severe when the dawn is closest.”

With the wish and prayer that we are close to our dawn.

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