Colum McCann: The ruin of the heart is when we do nothing. Do something today.

Five years ago I climbed a staircase in Beit Jala in the West Bank. I walked into a room where I met two men who, in the course of an hour, told a story which cleaved open my tired heart.  

Rami, Colum, and Bassam

Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan told me the story of the life and the death of their daughters, Abir and Smadar. I was, then, and forever will be, a supporter of the Parents Circle, and the idea that we can use the force of our grief as a weapon for good. 

Later, in the course of writing a novel, Apeirogon, I came upon the startling idea that Rami and Bassam were telling the stories of their daughters in order to keep them alive. They were modern-day Scheherazades. They had to tell the story. And they also had to be listened to. I wanted the world to hear their stories and so I wrote my book out of a deep need to confront the heartbreak of the world. Every day these two young girls sit on their father’s shoulders and whisper to them, just as they whisper to me, just as they whisper to you, just as we all whisper to the future.

An apeirogon is a shape with a countably infinite number of sides. It might be an odd word to understand at first, but really it just means that we are all involved, we are all affected, we are all complicit, and we all have a capacity to change the nature of the shape.

There are 600 families involved in the Parents Circle. Every day they tell their stories in widening circles. They disrupt the rhythm of the sadness and they somehow bring hope in the face of all available evidence. They don’t ask each other to be the same. They live in different places. They eat, for the most part, at different tables. They live under vastly different political skies. But they have one unified goal: to disrupt the conventional narratives of hatred and violence by telling the truth.

The ruin of the heart is when we do nothing. After hearing the stories of the Parents Circle, it is up to us – the listeners – to parse the stories and then to change the reality on the ground. The job of the Parents Circle is the job of all of us: we need to know one another. This is not some sentimental throwaway. It is actually far more difficult to embrace understanding than to be divisive. It takes the courage of our convictions – physical, moral, financial – to stand up to the cynical ease of those who profit from division and strife.

Stories last longer than walls. Don’t be surprised when the walls eventually fall. It happened – out of the wild blue – in Berlin, and it happened in Northern Ireland and it can happen inside us, amid the walls of our hearts. This new sense of hope will be seemingly random, and it will be crowd-sourced, and it will arrive with startling speed. But the momentum of this will have come from you and the members of the Parents Circle. 

Even in the darkest times, there is no such thing as impossible. I ask you to listen to the stories of Rami and Bassam. I ask you to hear the whispers of Abir and Smadar. I ask you to make a gift of hope for both Palestinians and Israelis and contribute generously to the Parents Circle.


Colum McCann