A dear friend called me the other day to discuss Paddington Bear.
Now, even for a certified geek like me, children’s literature doesn’t come up in the conversation very often. I haven’t set aside time to chat about Babar on Mondays, or Dr. Seuss on alternate weekends or Peter Rabbit over tea. (The fact that Richard Scarry came up in the same week is completely coincidental.)
No, this one got started as many conversations do these days, with something seen on the internet. My friend had been scrolling through social media and noticed a post about Paddington’s origins … one with a drawing to show him (like so much else these days) in Ukrainian colors.
“Do you know the story?” she asked.
I did, in fact. For those who don’t, I’ll be quick.
The stories focus on a young bear – one who walks, talks and dresses like humans, naturally – who’s found alone in Paddington railway station and adopted. A new arrival from “darkest Peru,” he bears a tag reading: “Please Look After This Bear. Thank You.”
The character itself came from two elements. One was a teddy bear alone on a shelf in a shop near Paddington Station, which Bond saw one Christmas Eve. But the other piece – one that’s recently been recirculated online – came from displaced children he’d seen during World War II. The story varies as to whether the children were London evacuees or newly arrived Jewish refugees, and maybe Bond himself wasn’t sure which. The key detail remains the same: the lives of the young, uprooted by the battles of their elders.
Why does that matter now? Because those battles seem to be uprooting more forcefully than ever.
There’s never been a time in our memory when the lives and livelihood of the young haven’t been in danger somewhere. (I wish I could say otherwise.) But the war in Ukraine has put it on a horrifying scale. UNICEF recently estimated that every minute, 55 children have fled Ukraine for elsewhere. That’s roughly one child every second.
“This refugee crisis is, in terms of speed and scale, unprecedented since the Second World War,” UNICEF spokesman James Elder told the press in Geneva, “and is showing no signs of slowing down.”
That’s a staggering thought to hold in the mind. So most of us don’t.
I don’t mean that we don’t care, or that we’re not capable of holding more than one crisis in our minds at a time. But we do get easily distracted. I mean, many of us just spent a week going back and forth about one man slapping another at the Academy Awards. There’s always something new on the radar, screaming for just a few minutes of our attention, and the minutes add up.
Add in the day-to-day concerns that we all have and … well, anything beyond the immediate tends to fall away.
But for some, the immediate is all they have.
We need to see. We need to remember.
None of us are Superman, able to fly into a war zone and pluck the innocent from danger in a single bound. But anything we can do, we should, even if that something is just to keep reminding the people who can do more.
We’re here to help each other. However we can. Wherever we can. And whether that reach is across the street or around the world, to one person or a flood of children, it matters.
It doesn’t take a hero. But we do have to see the bear and read the tag. It reads much the same as it did then:
Please Look After Each Other.