Childhood Snatched

I watch my daughters jump the waves, their skin turning a deeper and deeper bronze with each hour. The energy they have. The pure, unadulterated joy of the moment, the largest waves eliciting screams of delight.

I’ve warned them about rip tides. Explained the importance of staying close together, not venturing out too deep. They heed me, but it doesn’t stop them from reveling in the joy of the moment.

They’re brave little ones, these children of mine. Like many–most?–kids who’ve lived in relative safety.

On my mind since it happened has been another child, not much older than my oldest daughter. A child who by all appearances had an otherwise normal childhood. Until one day, two classmates walked into his classroom with guns, and this child did what he’d been trained to do. He ran at them, likely saving his classmates in the act.

But this child? He’s dead. Snatched from his friends, his family, his innocence, his future. His parents are living all parents’ worst nightmare. They live while he has gone.

Social media called him a hero, a child who gave up his life for the other children. His picture was plastered all over my social media for a day or two. He was indeed a hero.

But is that any comfort to his parents? More to the point, why did he have to be?

Heroes protect their comrades and nation’s values in wars. Heroes save other in natural and man-made disasters. Heroes make a knowing choice to risk their safety for others’ sakes.

But what kind of country are we becoming when we plan for our children to have to lay down their lives for their classmates? We train them for it. When did this ultimate sacrifice become the price of participation in school? Or for that matter, at concerts and other public places?

When something–a behavior, a thing–proves to be dangerous, we pass laws to mitigate the risk. Car crashes can be deadly, hence driving tests and age limits and safety belts and speed limits and rules for right of way. It doesn’t mean crashes don’t happen, but it means they are fewer, and less fatal when they do happen. Ditto for drinking alcohol. Or drugs. Even fireworks. Or going through airport security, and being forbidden to do certain things on, or bring certain things onto, an airplane. We accept these rules because they keep us safer.

There was a time, in the wild west, when danger lurked in each new encounter, and law enforcement was nonexistent or unreliable. People had to be extremely self-sufficient when it came to their own and their loved ones’ safety. But we are not in the lawless west and this is not the 1800s. So why do we continue to insist on believing that we do?

One day, I believe, we will have the collective moral spine to vote into office people who will pass laws to make our children–and all of us–safer from those who shouldn’t have weapons, but can and do. Until then, we can only pray that our children, our live-in-the-moment, joy-knowing, innocent, brave children, will live to see their next school vacation and play in the ocean again.

Themes Turning

Themes Turning

Totally by coincidence, and months ago now, I found myself reading two books in parallel. The topics are different. The genres are different. The style of writing is different. The books are set on different continents. The authors are not even contemporaries. Yet the themes could not be a closer echo of each other.

The books are Souls of Black Folk, by W. E. B. Dubois, and Trinity, by Leon Uris.

Neither book is modern, which makes the language outdated. In their lack of buzz words and modern code, their voices become fresh again to a contemporary reader.

The main parallel I saw was in the authors’ treatment of poverty. In their own unique ways, the authors question the assumption (as prevalent then as it is now) that the poor are deserving of their suffering because they are lazy, dirty, dumb, name your flaw. They are somehow less than.

You may need to read that again. The poor are lesser humans, and therefore deserve their situation. Is this true? Whether we think we believe it or not, how many of us behave as if it is? And how do we know? I will not presume to answer this for you.

This is, on another note, Holy Week for Orthodox Christians. The readings and litanies of this week invoke a sense of deep introspection. Repentance, gratitude, compassion, a sense of our own wretchedness. A sense of being intimately known and intimately loved. All the reference points from which we have ever stood come together in this one week for an incredibly powerful spiritual reckoning–if we put in the time and effort to partake, of course.

So I had all this on my mind during today’s service. And as often happens, the readings  were read as if they were responding to my thoughts. First, a Psalm, and then, a Gospel passage, well known, from Matthew 25. (Psalms 41: 1-2 and Matthew 25: 31-46, if you’d like to look them up for yourselves.) Here was a message about considering–thinking about–the poor, so that God will come to our aid in our [inevitable] time of trouble. And then, in Matthew, Christ teaches that when we help others (the sick, the imprisoned, the hungry, the homeless), it is as if we are helping Christ Himself.

God, the Creator of the Universe, is likening himself to those poor, those lesser-thans. He is encouraging us to help them. Which means we have to connect with them. Which means moving out of our comfortable circles to do the inconvenient, the uncomfortable thing for those whom it doesn’t apparently benefit us to help.

Here is my wider point. Meditating on our own spiritual/ emotional state, moving outside what is known and comfortable to connect with others, these are all (among other things) the very things that give life its meaning and its richness, I believe.

I ask you then to ask yourself, as I do myself, in what ways we can stay spiritually connected; past this week for observers of the Orthodox calendar, or past another time of spiritual awakening for others. What can we do to deepen our connection with the Creator of this world, and, in so doing, remind ourselves and others of Who that Creator is?

 

 

Who Still Talks of Idols?

Who Still Talks of Idols?

What is the one thing that occupies your thoughts? The one thing that you devote mental space and effort to each day? If you can’t name the top one, how about the top two or three?

What are we pre-occupied with? Our highest teachers have told us what the answers should be: spiritual growth (particularly for those of us who practice faith), showing kindness to our fellow man, or serving in our community, raising children well, or any other multitude of principles that benefit us or those around us in a long-term, meaningful way.

Those might be the answers we “should” give.

But the images and mantras most of us encounter on a daily basis inundate us with answers of their own. These messages pair two disparate things together–so persistently and so forcefully–that people have come to accept them, many times without even noticing. Fitness (apparently a sign of self-discipline and other virtues), wealth (happiness comes only to those with a luxury car and a big house), beauty (beautiful people are good people) are just a few of these messages.

So let me ask it again: what is the one thing (or two or three) that occupies your thoughts?

What I’m getting at is not a new idea. In fact, it’s a very old one. Biblical times old. Moses old.

“You shall have no other gods before Me.” Exodus 20:3 (NKJV)

To the people under Moses’ leadership, it meant don’t worship anything above God.

Not a golden calf.

Not the gold that made the calf.

It meant don’t rely on anything or anyone but God to save, or guarantee anything. Indeed, we mustn’t because we can’t.

Yes, yes, we know. Money doesn’t buy happiness. Lots of rich folks have great sorrows.

But what about if one is super popular and has lots of friends? That’s all we need, right? Good times with good friends? (Assuming, of course, that nobody every changes, there’s never any disagreement, nobody moves, everyone always lifts each other up, and everyone you want to be around is always instantly available.) So in other words, maybe not?

Ok, so what about if we are super healthy? Eat well, get enough sleep, exercise regularly? Healthy bodies means we’ll have a good long life, able to do everything we want or need to do. Ok, not a bad thing in and of itself. But doesn’t health mean tanned, toned bodies? Actually, no. But those are the images we’re urged to accept of health.

Where am I going with this? I’m asking you, simply–as I ask myself–to examine what we allow to occupy our minds and take up our precious time and energy. Our days and abilities are limited. Let’s make sure we’re laying them down at the feet of only the Worthy.

 

 

Home Takes Work

Home Takes Work

What does the word “home” mean to you? Is it the place you walk into, shut the door, and take refuge at the end of every day? Or the place you travel to a few times a year to see family or loved ones? Is it a treasured memory in a country far away?

The idea that there is someplace we’re fully able to belong, to relax: that’s home. But it doesn’t happen by itself.

Home takes work. It takes constant maintenance, and effort, particularly when there are children in our home and we are the adults loving and caring for them.

I don’t always appreciate that work and effort enough, or give it enough weight. I think of it as lesser work. But it’s important.

It’s important for giving our kids (and ourselves!) a place of refuge. Most parents strive to create homes for our children with memories that will hopefully give them a strong foundation, and joy, when they’ve long since left that home. It’s a place where a framework for their futures is built, and on which their values, their priorities, their abilities will be formed and then deepened.

So home is important. But for those of us who follow Christian teachings, home is not everything. It’s certainly not the biggest house we can buy, furnished with the nicest furnishings and the most up-to-date technology, clothes, etc. It is, rather, the place from which we launch, striving always to complete our mission, whatever form it takes, and the place to which we retreat when we need to rest and recharge.

As I type this, it is snowing outside, threatening to make a very long week go out on a yet more hectic note. And so rather than dwell on all the worries that tomorrow could bring, I think I will call it a night, grateful that the kids are all sheltered, warm, and sleeping, and safe, and give myself that same respite.

Heartland Discoveries

Heartland Discoveries

It is mid-January as I write this. A few weeks ago, over the kids’ winter break, we decided to take a road trip. We chose somewhere we could easily drive to in a day, for our youngest, not quite three, is at an age that any parent will tell you makes longer trips challenging. And it was, after all, supposed to be a vacation.

We didn’t go somewhere warm and balmy, or somewhere famous. Our country’s diversity of climate, geography, and culture is awe-inspiring, and so we had decided some time ago that we want to see more of it. We went to a city in a state most of us had never been to: St. Louis, Missouri. And we had a blast. We saw some of the sights they have there. We met up for lunch with an old college friend of mine and his spouse. We visited a couple more places (but not all, thanks to the government shut-down). And we hung out together.

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The famous Arch in St. Louis

Here’s what I learned about this place: like so many other parts of the country, there is a very urban/rural divide. We went through city neighborhoods where every other house had a Black Lives Matter sign in front (St. Louis is not far from Ferguson, MO). And we went through rural areas that looked very mid-America rural.

A lot of St. Louis’s most noteworthy buildings are the oldest of their kind west of the Mississippi River, which says a lot about the city’s significance as the country was expanding westward.

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(The picture on the left was taken inside the Basilica of St. Louis, King (aka the Old Cathedral), the oldest cathedral west of the Mississippi and, I must add, a beautiful building.)

For law and history lovers, the Old Courthouse in St. Louis is where the famous Dred Scott case was heard.

 

 

One building in particular, the City Museum, was recommended to us by everyone who had been to St. Louis, and we could see why. Its creator had quite the imagination, and managed to bring it to fruition impressively. The kids could have spent many more than the couple of hours we alloted there.

 

They could also have spent more time than we did at the Science Museum, which had some amazing displays and, notably, basic admission is free.

But the biggest take-away for me from this trip was that traveling with my family is fun. Famous or luxury destinations are definitely fun, but so is spending a few days away from the familiar and enjoying the journey together.

Now, as we settle back into winter hibernation and routine at home, I hope I can remember the little glimpses of my kids’ inner selves that I had the privilege of discovering, and the memories that my husband and I can add to our treasure box.

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P.S. Ten months have gone by since I last posted, and so if anyone was waiting for a blog post, I apologize for the delay. I wrote at least three drafts on other topics, and then for reasons I can’t remember, never posted them. It has been that kind of year: full of change that is welcome but with which I have barely kept up. The holidays are over and the weather encourages hibernation; maybe in this season I can finally pick up again my figurative pen, for it brings me joy.

Goodness small and pale

Goodness small and pale

This morning, my almost two-year old son, holding up his arms to me, nestled his head against my neck as soon as I picked him up. For a moment, I savored the sweetness and the peace. It was a simple moment, like one experienced by many souls past and present on this earth, and it was priceless.

But then the day flooded in. Syrian children and other innocent civilians being bombed to death, or starving underground in order to avoid being bombed. Angry and worried gun-owners insisting that we need guns to protect us against the bad guys. Oh, and parents who less than two weeks ago lost their teenagers–teenagers!–and somehow managed to contain their mourning enough to go and plead to their governments to act, for this is not the first massacre.

The world is full of evil. There is also good in the world. And innocence. The goodness and innocence, small and pale in a world that is always competing loudly for our attention, are easy to miss.

But maybe the evil is too. Not the evil that makes itself known in blood and flesh spattered across sidewalks and high school lockers as kids run screaming. Not the evil that threatens people with their lives, or brazenly steals from them. That is evil we all recognize for what it is.

But there is also the evil that whispers to our fears, fanning them. The evil that blinds us to the way our own thoughts are fueled by self-preservation. Or pride. The evil that steals our peace, our churning malcontent bruising those close to us.

For Christians, this is the season of Lent. In the Orthodox church, it is a season of close examination and testing of our spiritual state, of repentance and a drawing near to the Source of Life. It couldn’t have come at a better time for me. It is only by drawing near to God that I can regain my perspective. While I cannot eliminate evil from my world–none of us can–I can seek God’s wisdom in how to recognize it. How to respond to it. How to love even those who bruise us. I can ask Him for the sustenance that the world in all its wonder cannot give. I can ask for peace. And I can have faith that God will answer.