Responding to Sandy Hook: Is Our World Safe for Children?
So much grief has been poured out in the last week over the six and seven year olds who were gunned down by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. Their killings struck a nerve in every parent, and for that matter every person hearing the story, tearing through our psyches, realizing how close to home such horror truly is.
How can your heart not melt when you see the images of those little innocent kids marching out of the school clutching each other’s hands? They could have been our children. They could have been us — we too were once vulnerable children trudging to school every day of our young lives. When children are struck down in the most sacred of all sanctums — a school, a place where millions of us were educated, a place that is meant to be an oasis, protecting us from the cruelties of the outer world — it shakes us to the core, knowing that all of us have been in some way violated by this crime.
There are lines we all never cross. Despite our disagreements about so many matters, everyone concurs that children must be left out of the battles and bloodshed of adults. As children grow up they will inevitably, unfortunately, encounter human travesties. But we can all agree that we must protect and shelter our children from the darkness of life as long as we possibly can.
That, in effect, is the nature of a school — a place of innocence, a space where we (hopefully) pursue truth, clarity, knowledge, love and all the elements that help shape healthy children into healthier adults. An optimal school is, in other words, like a garden — a place of beauty, where seeds are sowed, and meant to blossom into beautiful shrubs and flowers. This is done with the assistance of selfless educators, who like dedicated gardeners, don’t create the plants. Rather they create the nurturing environment, watering the seeds and weeding the weeds, that allow them to bloom.
Trouble in Paradise
When that line is crossed and violence enters into the garden, when blood is spilled on freshly fallen white snow, its stark violation is keenly sensed by one and all.
“Leave them kids alone” was a powerful resonating anthem made popular by a pop group (though they were talking about teachers, referring to the corruption wrought on children by so-called educators. — But that’s a discussion for another time. Here we are focusing on the horrors crossing the boundaries from outside of school walls).
And what it does is remind us that some places should never be defiled.
But is that true? Should we be concerned only about the innocent souls in innocent places, and give up on ourselves?
Shouldn’t a tragedy like Sandy Hook — without taking away from the need to protect our children — also wake us up to the innocence within ourselves and the need to protect that as well?
Have we become so resigned about our own aspirations and ideals that we relegate the pure and the beautiful only to our children? By doing, perhaps we are actually saying, sadly, that purity is only in the domain of fantasy — the fantasy world of naive children.
But then isn’t it true that our children will inherit the earth and the attitudes that we adults create? Yes, today they may be innocent, but they will very soon — too soon — enter the corrupt, jaded, cynical world of the “mature.”
Are we expecting something better for our children when we expect of ourselves? How can we assume that our children will have a better world when we are the ones shaping that world with our sub-par standards?
Are we ready to tell our own children: “hey, I love you and will do everything to protect you. But know that one day you will grow up, and your eyes will then open as you realize that all your “innocence” and “purity,” all your dreams and exuberance, were an illusion — a childhood fantasy worthy for no one but immature babies…”
Is there an adult (I should add healthy) parent that is willing to tell this to his or her child?
Is there any adult that actually believes that? — Even writing those words brought a chill to my spine…
Is that what we are ready to tell the children murdered in Sandy Hook — as well as those that survived, along with all the millions of children going to school every day?
Try this test at home with a, say, 3 year old child (perhaps older): Ask the child, your child or any child, how would you like to have one million dollars? Just for fun, let’s make it one billion dollars.
What do you think will be the child’s reaction? Would you be surprised if the child asks you what is money, or what is a million or a billion, or perhaps ignores you altogether because the child is busy playing with some toys?
Think about it.
Who has it more right: Us adults who “appreciate” the value of money, or the child who has no clue?
Who was more aware: Adam and Eve with their “eyes opened” ashamed of their nakedness, or as they were innocent beings lacking any self-consciousness and dissonance? Who is more aware: Jaded adults, colored by their own desires, selfishness and ambitions, or children who don’t even know the meaning of money?
It always struck me as deeply troubling when adults agree on banning certain “adult” products and entertainment from children, but have no problem with indulging in it themselves (I am not obviously addressing the issue of freedom of speech). If it’s appropriate for adults why is it inappropriate for children? And what distinguishes a child from an adult — age? What age exactly does this move from the unacceptable to the acceptable? Would we say the same for unethical behavior as an example: that its not ok for children but ok for adults? After all, aren’t adults today the children of yesterday, and the children of today the adults of tomorrow? Our adult lives will be shaped by our lives as children. By creating a dichotomy of the two aren’t we undermining our adult lives, as if to say, that something is destructive for the foundation of the structure (childhood), but acceptable for the structure itself (adulthood)?
I suspect that we all have higher standards and expectations of our children — and of ourselves. Why else are we so shocked by the murders in Newtown?
We are disturbed because we all know and sense that something is very very wrong when pure children are gunned down (point blank, with multiple shots), in a school of all places — that last bastion of hope, where we hope to bring up our next generation.
But Sandy Hook reminds us something more: that we are our children. We were once children, and we still are children (only in adult bodies), who have wandered away from our purest version of ourselves.
Sandy Hook simply reminded us of a truth that many of us have conveniently forgotten, due to the distractions and seductions of our material lives.
Yes, our “busy” lives drown out the subtle voice within that tells us:
Our children are closer to reality than we are. Their simple purity and innocence is far truer than our sophisticated institutions.
The young souls of Sandy Hook remind us that the angels who are our children are far more real than the demons that are our adults.
One of the greatest tributes we can offer to the young lives that have been torn away from their families and the world is to resolve once and for all, not to gravitate back to our “adult” assumptions that we have been indoctrinated with, that we adult have it right and the children have it wrong, or are simply ignorant.
But to see our shock at this latest atrocity as a reminder that it’s the other way around: Our children are the best of us, and it is their world that is far more real than our distorted one.
The shock we experienced by the violation that has pierced the innocent walls of our schools and our children should be converted into an equally powerful resolve to build not just more secure schools with higher walls around the “garden,” but to build a world — a garden — in which we feel our children would be most comfortable.
We can and should build more protected schools. We can and should radically improve our mental health care? But is that the solution? As long as our schools are mere “oases” from the jungle surrounding them, how high must their walls be to protect from gunmen or madmen (or both)?
Instead of seeing our schools as “escape zones” and our children as immature “anomalies” that need to be protected from the “real” world, why don’t we see our shock for what it is: a wake up call that we need to turn our entire world into the garden we want for our children, and for… ourselves.
Instead of condemning our children to enter into a world of — and built by (the standards of) — adults, let us build a world defined by the far more sublime standards of our children.
Imagine a world where our children are totally comfortable. A world where they can roam freely, with concern or fear. A world that is safe like a home and beautiful like a garden. Where flowers of all colors and shapes grow and intermingle.
Do you think it is is possible? Is this the stuff if child fantasy? Can we adults dream of such a reality?
The children of Sandy Hook, whose dreams were cut short, deserve that we continue the dream for them.
If you can dream it, you can create it.