do we really want to protect “our” children?

child runnning over graffiti of flowers painted on brick Good morning this Tuesday morning. Today I’ve got a cup of half-caf coffee, and the big mug warms my fingers as they fumble in the morning light, trying to find a rhythm again on the keyboard.

This morning I am thinking about six- and seven-year-olds who get shot at school, and about how (or if) we as a culture can grow/evolve to a place where such violences are actually unthinkable. I want to be hopeful, but today I am filled with doubt. You out there who are parents, you have my highest regards — I cannot imagine how you send your heart out into the world, unprotected, every day, knowing what violence awaits them right outside the front door, and I can only hope and trust that those children know that they are safe inside with you.It took me a couple of days to read or listen to any stories about the shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school last Friday — please excuse me if this sounds flippant, but the grief-porn tenor of most of our media coverage is so unsettling that it’s hard for me to concentrate on those we’re meant to be mourning. I want the room to hold the awfulness without being interrupted for a word from our sponsors, and without the music and camera angles informing my emotional response.

This morning, though, I am thinking about a policy maker (Malcolm Brady, who used to be the assistant director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) who, last night in an interview on NPR, called the assault rifle that was used to kill the children and teachers in Newtown, CT (and used earlier this year by the shooters in Aurora, CO and in Oregon) “cool to carry” because of it’s “Rambo effect,” and because it can be easily customized, in different colors and styles.

I am thinking about lawmakers who can say things like “Never before have we seen our babies slaughtered.” Which “we” does he mean? You and I know the truth about this statement, don’t we? I’m not sure where this man has been living. Probably not in downtown Oakland, or in lots of other cities, where the babies have been being slaughtered for many, many years.

And I am thinking of the dead, of the families of those killed and how they hold sacred their mourning during a media firestorm.

I am thinking of the young man who shot his mother and then twenty-seven others, including himself, and where he got the idea that this was acceptable, that this act of extreme violence existed as an option. It wasn’t video games, I think. It was something much more intrinsic to our culture. He is “our” child, too, isn’t he?

Somewhere inside, I believe it’s my responsibility to be optimistic right now — that I should talk about how we can take care of the survivors (ourselves included), how we ought to be gentle with ourselves and one another, how we might write and create our way into a new reality. And at some point I’ll be able to find those words. In the immediate aftermath of these violences, I am pessimistic. The language in the media now is about how much we love our children, and how we must protect them, giving the impression of a child-centric nation. Five children are killed a day as a result of abuse and maltreatment — these are children violated and neglected. We in the USA have the highest rate of child-abuse deaths in the developed world. Of those not killed by abuse suffer the consequences of being raised in a (home and national) culture of violence. Are these not “our” children, Senator Manchin?

I do not intend to take any attention away from the national mourning of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. I would like us to consider who we, as a nation, choose to mourn. I would like the president to show up at the door of every child killed in this country. I would like him to show up at the burial of all children killed as a result of US presence in Iraq and Afghanistan — but, of course, we all know, it wouldn’t be physically possible for him to do so, and he would get no other work accomplished.

Will we do the work necessary, as a nation, as a world, as a human race, to undo the cultures that make violence against children acceptable? Today I am not hopeful. I want to hear that language from Capitol Hill, the language of connection, of intersection, instead of talking about making schools more militarized and policed, instead of taking up a second amendment battle. We can honor those who were killed while also considering the larger struggle of a nation addicted to violence and power, a nation whose culture considers kindness to be weakness and values charity over generosity. “Our” babies have been being slaughtered (physically, spiritually, psychically) for generations — here and around the world. In his blog post, What if Children Mattered No Matter Where They Lived — and Died?“, Peter Hart of FAIR reminds us:

Time‘s Joe Klein’s comment that four-year-olds in Pakistan might have to die from drone attacks so that four-year-old Americans do not die in terrorist attacks was a reminder that, for some people, some lives are practically expendable.

Will we decide to change the messages we give our children about power and control — or will we come clean about how we really feel about children in this country? Will we stop treating children (and other humans) as our property — to do with exactly as we wish, and to dispose of as needed? Will we release our belief in the right to behave violently as our highest priority?

I offer these as possible prompts for today. At my church on Sunday, our pastor, Curran, reminded us that the greatest good we can do for one another in these days of aftermath and despair is to be kind to one another. That’s maybe a more generative prompt — what would it look like to go out into the world wearing the skin of kindness anyway, even when we feel the most bleak? Give that ten minutes with your pen and notebook today, and follow your writing where it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for being easy with you, and for the brilliant kindness you offer your children and that you teach them to offer others. Thank you for the possibility of a new legacy. Thank you for your words.

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