Friday, October 13, 2006

Let's Give God a Break

A twenty-year-old mother in North Carolina suffocated her 9-month-old twin boys on Wednesday because they were crying and she didn't feel well. Those babies were on the bed next to her when she murdered them. Then she rolled over and took a nap. Authorities found the body of one boy on the bed, the other on the floor. The mother has been arrested on two counts of homicide by child abuse.

So here we have the ruined lives of three people, not to mention other family members. Obviously (to me, anyway), this woman never should have become a mother. She was not equipped to deal with the harsher moments that go along with parenthood. I don't know a mom alive who hasn't had to deal with needy children when she herself did not feel well. I don't know one of them who killed her kids over it.

I don't know any further details of this story. But based on the few I've mentioned and some other pieces of information I've gleaned from news reports, I can imagine she was a single mother, low-income. Uneducated, unskilled, perhaps unemployed. No one ever explained to her the resources available to her and her children. No one paid any attention to her, at least not when she needed it most. And now two innocent lives have been snuffed out.

This is just one of hundreds of similar stories that unravel throughout this great nation every day. Maybe they don't all end the same. Instead of death, children suffer sexual and physical abuse, emotional such an intense and irrevocable degree that they would rather die. But they don't die. So then they seek escape by turning to gangs, drugs, prostitution, get the picture.

I can't imagine a life like that. I hope my kids can't, either, though I would sometimes like them to understand that the life they have isn't unfair simply because I expect them to help with chores around the house and do what I ask the first time I make the request. I'd like them to have at least an inkling of what it's like not to be them because being them seems (to them) to be a rip-off when I don't just hand them money for no reason, or when I hold them accountable for their actions. Sometimes, being a parent really blows. It means being the bad guy, the nag, the one who says No when saying Yes would be so much easier.

But although we require training and licensing for driving motor vehicles, obtaining certain jobs, and constructing buildings, we don't provide mandatory training for parents-to-be. Oddly enough, some counties require a course for parents who are divorcing, to help them smooth the transition for the kids and remember that they are the adults, regardless of the circumstances. So we are, according to law, trained to handle divorce, but not parenting.

I wonder how that North Carolina mother might have better handled her frustration had she received some assistance (and I'm not talking welfare) before her babies arrived. Or, perhaps even better, before she got pregnant. Instead, we have folks who want to ban sex education in favor of abstinence-only rhetoric AND outlaw abortion. Where is the logic in this?

The idea of having an abortion fills me with unutterable sadness. Really, I can't put together words to express how devastating the thought is to me. But in a world filled with thousands of unwanted children who endure unbearable suffering at the hands of those who are supposed to love and cherish them most, I can't find the logic in revoking one of few options available. To the young girl who is repeatedly raped by her dad or brother, or the woman who is abused in every manner by her psychotic husband, abortion is, perhaps, the only ray of hope. I don't know; I've never been in such a situation. But I can't for one moment pretend that I know what is best for someone who has had this experience.

I want a presidential administration that values everyone, not just the rich or religious (but it has to be the "right" religion), the white or powerful. Everyone. If that were the case, there would be little need to ever discuss the rights of the unborn vs. the born. We would all get what we need, those basic necessities such as education, food, shelter, health insurance. If life weren't a dire struggle for so many hundreds of thousands of people just to survive, maybe there would be more time to devote to bettering ourselves so that we might just be able to give our kids what they need.

Instead, we have mothers barely out of their teens, suffocating their babies and facing life in prison. And we have young boys and grown men storming our schools and terrorizing our children, murdering some and traumatizing the rest for life. We have young girls and grown women dying from self-induced abortions and those performed by back-alley pseudo doctors because men are passing laws telling us what we can and cannot do with and to our own bodies. Everyone in these scenarios is a victim, from the dead babies to the suicidal, gun-wielding maniacs.

I'm an idealist. At various times in my life, it's been the only thing between me and a very bad choice. I believe in the overall goodness of the human race, that there still exists the possibility that things can change for the better. I need to believe that something new and improved lies just beyond the horizon, because the news I read yesterday and today, the headlines I will surely read tomorrow, are soul-crushing. They could easily rob me of my hope and determination if I hadn't already spent more than forty years learning how to detect that sliver of potential in the mountain of disappointment.

The family of the slain boys say they're giving the situation up to God, that it's in his hands. Maybe if more people here on earth would take responsibility for what happens not only to themselves but to their neighbors, we wouldn't need to keep giving God so much to do.

In the meantime, our simple leader has made us the police of the world, and we're spending billions of dollars we don't have fighting a war we can't seem to bring to an end for a reason we can't seem to remember (oh, that's right; there wasn't [a real] one) while our own people suffer needlessly and endlessly due to poverty, ignorance, and destitution. Then, that same simple leader and his henchmen pass laws that are rapidly making second-class citizens out of anyone who isn't white, straight, wealthy, and male. Despite my idealism, I can only predict that this will end badly.

Abortion. War. Poverty. Murder. Foreign policy. Parenting. Ignorance. Politics. You may think these concepts aren't related, but they are. In its simplest form, everything is related in one way or another.

And it isn't God who provides the common thread. It's you. And it's me. And until we truly understand this, every effort we make is destined to fail.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Spilling of Innocent Blood

The murders of young Amish school girls in Pennsylvania earlier in the week hit me hard. It's not as if we don't have our own school shootings in this state; we seem to lead the troops in that sad scenario. Every time I read or hear of yet another shooting, a small part of me is shamed. These are our children, and we're failing them miserably in so many ways.

But the shootings in Pennsylvania ripped through me on several levels. My sister and brother were born in Lancaster, PA, home to thousands of Amish folk. My extended family lived (and a few still remain) near that region, and I spent many childhood summers there. From the time I was small, the Amish and their horse-drawn buggies were a familiar sight as I enjoyed carefree summer days with my cousins and grandparents, aunts and uncles. I remember feeling sorry for the little girls whose dresses were so drab, whose dolls had no faces. And always, always, I pitied them having to spend those humid days in full clothing while I cavorted in shorts, tank tops, and flip flops. In my eyes, the Amish children seemed so serious and sullen. I wanted for them the same fun and laziness I had the luxury to enjoy during those summer months.

In my teens, I looked at the Amish more with disbelief than anything. My lifestyle was so far removed from theirs; I had little understanding of how a life so simple and removed from my reality could be fulfilling. No phones, no lights, no motor cars, not a single was Gilligan's Island without Gilligan or the Island. I just didn't get it. Why would anyone voluntarily adopt that way of life?

It was not until adulthood that I came to admire the Amish and what being Amish actually meant. Because they are a throwback to centuries long gone, society has tended to mystify and revere them. I never fell into that trap; I'm sure they have their bad seeds just as we English do. I find it hypocritical that some sects are not allowed to own cars or phones or any modern conveniences that might make them slaves to their trappings, but that they can use them if need be. I absolutely hate driving behind them on long stretches of highway, moving, as Max would say, at the speed of smell. But.

To the extent of my understanding of and familiarity with the Amish, I consider them the one population truly closest to God. In a world that is a political jungle, they take no side. They live in a war-waging country, yet are unapologetic pacifists to the core. They have no need to impose their beliefs on anyone, whether from the pulpit, the classroom, or the White House. And as their reaction to this recent horrific tragedy demonstrates, they embody the essence of forgiveness. Their daughters' simple pine coffins not underground yet, they spoke of the need to forgive the deranged murderer. And despite their own grief and immeasurable loss, they crowded his funeral so that they might offer solace and comfort to his tormented family.

These people live their beliefs not only publicly, but in private. They shun those temptations that might lure them further from their God, yet they offer their teenage children a respite from the strict limitations of their lives to give them a chance to see what life outside the Amish community is like. During this time, their children can engage in any activity they choose: drinking, drugs, name it. The purpose of this milestone is to allow young people to make a choice to remain Amish or to choose a life in mainstream America. I know of no other Christian denomination as a whole that gives its young the room--not to mention the trust--to make a faith choice based on experience. Perhaps that's why there's such a rebellion from the church among young people today. To me, the Amish don't talk the talk; they walk the walk.

And now their gentle community has been desecrated. I can't help but wonder what went through the minds of those innocent girls as they experienced those last moments of life. Surely they had nothing against which to compare what they were going through. They had no reference to the outside world and its evil. Did this ignorance of their fate deepen their fear, or lessen it? According to newspaper reports, even in their terror, they were seeking meaning, asking their captor why he wanted to harm them. And one 13-year-old volunteered her own life for the safety of her younger peers. Even in the face of death, she rose above the sheer wickedness of the situation to offer herself as a sacrifice. That is an example of the love of God, and it was manifested in the selflessness of a young girl.

There is no ending to this story. I fear this is but a beginning.