Over the past eight years, I can think of perhaps three occasions when — as a television host — I’ve had tears in my eyes. On December 17, 2014, I went on air at 9:01 am and spent the majority of the transmission weeping.
Like so many others, I was shaken to the core by what happened in Peshawar. I cannot forgive and I certainly will not forget this tragedy.
But at the end of the day, I am connected only by nationality and a shared humanity to the parents and the families who lost their children. If I am so broken, how are they coping? What mechanisms are they adopting to be able to get through the days and nights that have followed this horrendous act of brutality? Do the standard psychological tools for coping with loss even apply?
The death of a child is an incredible tragedy. The death of many children is even worse. Granted a parent should never have to bury their child. It is the natural order of things for children to mourn their parents, not the other way around. It is certainly not the natural order of things for your darlings to be shot in cold blood by terrorists. But once again, it has happened. And it must be faced.
I’ve tried thinking to myself that the little ones died like heroes, that each of them was a martyr. But then I ask myself the obvious question: what if they didn’t want to be shaheeds? What if they wanted to grow up and become actors or singers or engineers?
But it is too late to ask such meaningful but sadly pointless questions. They won’t come back. They won’t grow up. When I try to think of what the parents and grandparents of these children are going through my heart skips a beat. They say that grandparents love their grandkids more than even their own kids.
Our responsibility now is not just to be there for those who mourn but also for the ones who survived. The children who have witnessed their classmates and their teachers being slaughtered in front of their eyes. That is an unimaginable trauma to live with and if left untreated, could cripple them to a point where living a ‘normal’ life may become impossible. Pakistan’s psychotherapists and child psychologists need to take time out of their normal routines and help out. Some of them have already stepped forward and their actions need to be appreciated.
While everybody is devastated, people have responded in very different ways. Some have been crying. Others have just switched themselves off emotionally and tried to get on with their lives. Another large group of people is enraged and screaming.
This country now needs rehabilitation to deal with the trauma of Peshawar. Communication has always been our weakest trait. Pakistanis are warm, welcoming and extremely strong people but we tend to brush our emotions and those of others under the carpet. We will have to express ourselves and let go of as much negativity as we can. It will not be easy but it is necessary for our emotional and psychological survival.
It is time for us to unite as a nation. For the past few days, I have been concluding my show with these words: “I am ashamed that I couldn’t protect my children. I am angry that I couldn’t do more. And I am so sorry.” I know we all are.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 22nd, 2014.