Tuesday, December 8, 2015
For Eight Year Olds in a Troubled World
Last week, two stories about two different children in the United States popped up on my newsfeed at the same time. I want to warn you- these are hard stories. I’ll state them as simply and as briefly as I can, but there’s no getting around how hard they are. And. . . .there’s a hard piece of my own story mentioned here that I have not publicly shared before. . . which feels surprisingly vulnerable but necessary in pointing to what I hope would be at the centre of our motivation for creating change.
The first story was about an eight year old boy who has been charged with murder in the death of an infant. He’d been left alone with several children younger than himself including the baby, while the mothers of the children went out to party.
The second was about another eight year old boy who was in one of the houses in the neighbourhood where the police had a gun battle with the two suspects from the mass shooting in San Bernardino. When they heard the shots, the boy’s grandmother told him to get into the bathtub where he’d hopefully be safe from stray bullets. He did as he was told. He got into the empty bathtub. Then he laid on his side, curled into a ball, and quietly repeated over and over again, “No, no, no, no, no. . . . . .” as the gunfire continued outside.
I read these stories, and then I couldn’t move. I could barely breathe. Tears started to stream down my face as I sat in front of the computer. I wanted to pray, but the only words that came were, “Please, please, please. . . . “
I wish I could tell you that I was horrified by what happened to these children because it stands in stark contrast to my own childhood. But the truth is I was deeply affected because I know what it’s like to be eight years old and terrified. I remember feeling small, but at the same time certain that if I just tried hard enough- kept all the rules, watched for changing moods, was quick and smart and good enough- I could prevent the rage from coming at me again.
So, as I was reading I was there with these two bewildered eight-year-olds, terrified, afraid of the anger and violence of both familiar adults and strangers, trying to outrun nameless dread with frantic movement or a whispered chant.
When I was eight, every night I prayed to God the Father and Jesus, not to take me out of there, not even to make the bad stuff stop, but to make me better, to help me please my mother and make her happy.
The hardest thing about being eight and terrified is not knowing if an adult who has the power to do something will see what is happening and do something to change it. So please, let’s speak and listen and choose our words and our actions in a way that lets our children- and they are all “our” children- know that we do see what is happening, and that we will do everything in our power to keep their bodies, hearts, minds and spirits whole and safe.
Because if love- not sentimentality, but love that asks us to find the courage of a broken open heart- does not shape our conversations and our choices, the world we create will look a lot like the one we want so much to change.
~Oriah House © 2015