It is the season of peace, of good will to men. And yet it seems to me as if the world has gone a bit mad. A young man — barely out of HS — murdering little ones. An older man setting a trap to murder firefighters who came only to help. Virulent arguments between friends & family over to arm or not to arm. Talk of guards carrying weapons in our schools. What can we do, in the face of so much madness??
In a recent exchange on my own Facebook page, a friend suggested that instead of passing regulations on weaponry, we address current violence through arrest: ‘cracking down’ on repeat offenders, gang members. But we’ve tried a war on crime, and it hasn’t worked. We aren’t winning — all that seems to help crime stats decline is a good economy, or a lower birth rate (fewer of the wrong demographic — young white males).
My friend is correct, as well, when he asserts that stronger anti-weapon laws don’t always make a difference (although sometimes they do). So what’s the answer? Just hide our heads and attend funerals?
Part of the problem is so old we elide it through over-familiarity: we’re Puritans. We believe in punishing sinners. And we believe in a kind of moral thriftiness, as well. You don’t spend $$ on people who should help themselves. We pretend that justice is blind, but it falls heavily on boys, especially today. And especially boys with limited options…
Perhaps worse, is that punishing after the fact means a crime has to be committed. Someone has to suffer — possibly even die — before we can punish. Babies & fathers & mothers & wives & partners… They have to be shot, wounded, killed. Loss must take its toll.. And whatever formed the heart of the violator? Still out there. Still working. Still spreading darkness like a cancer.
Many of us who have worked in education, in social welfare, and with children of violence, know something I wish people would listen to: only positive action works to undo violence. To live my by the sword (or gun, or knife, or even violent anger) is to die by the same. I propose, instead, something experience has shown me works far better: love & listening & more love & hugs & more listening & more love. Did I mention love? And yes, we’ll also need some money. Dollars spent in prevention, not punishment and retribution and incarceration. And ultimately not only fewer of those dollars, but far fewer wasted lives.
Research tells us that if we want to stop young white males from killing people (and young white males are the profile for mass murderers) we need to reach out to boys. And here’s a digression (an important question, to my mind): why aren’t people upset about the hundreds of black children killed each year in their neighbourhoods? Why does it take the death of white children to arouse public indignation…?
So that’s my recommendation: HELP BOYS. As a mother of sons? I want us to HELP BOYS. I want us to find ways to engage them before gangs recruit them. Before they realise there are so few options for play in their own neighbourhoods. And I want to change THAT, too.
The man who recently opened fire on the firefighters he duped, killing two? He said it was ‘fun’ to kill people. We need to figure out ways for boys to have other kinds of fun. Our boys need to grow up outside, running off energy, learning to make things, learning to be healthy men. Not killers of children.
Please — let’s reach out to boys, find services for the ones who need help. Yes, the 18-year-old who slaughtered the innocents at Sandy Hook was crazy. It’s not enough to just say so. It dismisses what we can do, makes us secondary victims of his madness. Instead? Let’s fund social services, adding more (not taking away) counselors in schools. Let’s offer parents help when their children are more than they can handle. A mother of a boy much like the dead manchild who slaughtered the innocents at Sandy recently wrote to explain how horrible it is to live with such a child.
Little boys have so few loving role models in today’s violence-driven culture. Terminator? World of Warcraft? The Avengers? This is what we want our boys to grow up to be? Even our heroes — soldiers and men in capes, anyone? — bring good through violence. Steinbeck nailed it when he said we pay lip service to the virtues of Christianity (or any other faith of love & compassion), but admire robbers & barons and outlaws.
So here’s my plea: reach out to a little boy you know. Reach out to a middle schooler. A high schooler or even a college boy isn’t too old. Offer the image of any of the world’s great men as boys: Jesus, Gandhi, Einstein. Or today’s icons: Neil Gaiman the writer, or U2 the musician, or Matt Damon the actor. Show a boy another way to grow. They need us, our boys. And we need them: healthy and happy, so they can grow up to be tomorrow’s great men.
In the kitchen, ginger scones remain on tray. A triple layered server still holds peppermint bark and chocolate biscuits. Various leftovers decorate the dining table. It’s the night after the annual Girlfriends Holiday Tea.
I started this years ago — I don’t even remember how many. It’s what I do instead of presents: make three big pots of tea (China black, a second — tonight we had both Lapsang Souchong & a Temi Sikkim — and a decaf English breakfast blend) in the family silver and good china. Set the table w/ tiered servers & silver flatware and holiday linens, load it w/ homemade scones & quiche & chocolate biscuits (English — NOT homemade!), and kick back w/ my girlfriends.
Most of my friends are teachers. Over the years, we’ve become as close as extended family. Shanedra & Sherry have gone through their doctorates. Stephanie was a brand-new teacher when we first met; now she’s a district teacher leader. My best friend Pat has moved 1/2 way across the country, but we were lucky enough to have her last night. We’ve seen Jo through her divorce (and now 2nd time around dating); Robin is pregnant with her 2nd child (a boy this time!) & Donna has retired. We have history!
It’s late. The house is quiet — dogs snuffling softly, one on the sofa beside his master, the other curled by the heating vent. On the Christmas tree, the lights glitter as if they have tiny wings — iridescent, brilliant.
And there’s family, of course — my sisters come. One of my nieces comes, and brings her BFF (who is a bit like another niece by now). My sister bringsher bff. We drink waaay too much caffeine, talk fast & furious and in multiple layers, like a complex sound track. It’s heaven.
I can’t imagine how the few women I know who lack female friends & family manage. So many times my girlfriends and/or my sisters (and in my case, they’re often the same) have saved me ~ given me a shoulder to cry on, told me stupid jokes when I needed a laugh, been resource and conscience and compassionate ears. Not to mention that we have enormous fun, of course!
What do women w/out girlfriends do? This time of year, when I count my many blessings, the many wonderful women in my life — from my young nieces to my older mentors — are some of the most important. As the poet Gina Meyers writes, “the way/ my heart shatters/ a little each time/ I think of my friends/ & how lucky in life/ I’ve been to get/ to know them,/ to have/ had the time to laugh &/ drink & dance & to argue...”
I have nothing to say after a tragedy of this magnitude. My heart hurts — I have to catch my breath, thinking of sending a child or children off to school, and never seeing them again… My mind races: what have we come to? How did this happen? What can we do to stop these horrific tragedies?
I have been breathing for the families whenever I remember. And Newton, Connecticut has been in my thoughts often today… Tonglen helps, but it doesn’t stop the anger or the grief. When I become incensed with someone on FB who sees the national outrage as a threat to her right to own a gun, I try to channel that reaction for the families, whose anger & horror and grief so certainly outstrip anything I can imagine…
And when I’m missing my younger son, who will not be coming home for the holidays, I channel that, for these families who will be missing a child every holiday from now on…
I offer only this: great sorrow. Deep breaths. And a heartfelt hope that somehow, we find a way to stop these tragedies…
This week’s UU Weekly has a piece on the baby Jesus. We know very little about the historical Jesus, as the essay notes. The Christian Bible is the source for most of our Jesus history, and it’s not necessarily an historical exercise — that isn’t its purpose.
Author Meg Barnhouse makes the case that the story of the baby Jesus is, perhaps, what she calls a ‘soul story.’ “A soul story is a dream from the depths of a culture, not an individual,” Barnhouse writes.
I love this. The writer in me is seduced by this eloquent metaphor, even as I realise that members of my own family believe devoutly in the actual birth of Jesus, the Nativity story, and the subsequent Christian narrative. But for me, the inclusive, poetic Buddhist Unitarian I am, I love this ‘baby Jesus as metaphor for the soul’s journey’ idea.
Yesterday my doctor asked me — during a discussion of my mother’s skin cancer history, among other things — if I believed in the baby Jesus story. I had to confess I didn’t, pretty certain he wouldn’t disown my medical care, but still not sure how he’d take it.
If he asked today I would have a much better answer. Because today, thanks to Meg Barnhouse, I have another take on ‘belief.’ Each of us — I do believe — has a soul, a fragile seeking heart clothed in all the layers of protection we can amass. For me, my seeking often takes place on a page, or a screen. In a poem, an article, a blog post. Sometimes even in a piece of a class lecture or prep for one. For me, words are like the clear white stones Hansel & Gretel threw behind them in that other soul story. Words will take me where I need to go, almost always. If not my own, I can count on those of others.
Yesterday a friend posted that he loves reading the reflections in his students’ portfolios. Students will tell you that a class in poetry — in writing about their own growth, or the growth of others — changes their lives. I told him that I really believe poetry can save lives. It saved mine, certainly, at a time when nothing else could get through.
So the idea of the soul as a tiny baby, born naked & trembling into a cold dark night, poor in material goods, but rich in blessings…? That is beyond appealing. And it is, I realise, what lies at the heart of so many Christians’ beliefs — the ‘Jesus Christians,’ as I call them, not the Leviticus ones who seem to believe only in punishment…
This winter holiday season (Christmas! Hannukah! Bodhi Day! Kwanzaa!), I wish you a journey of redemption. I wish for you a soul journey that culminates in transcendence. And I hope your days are full of light.