A Better Year to Come for All of Us

Written by on December 30, 2012 in Learning to Breathe - No comments

A few days before Christmas, I said good-bye to my two little girls for their Christmas holiday with their dad for two weeks. It’ll be the longest they’ve been away from me since they’ve been born. And I found it harder to say good-bye than usual because of the violence in Connecticut of a few weeks back. What kept flashing in my head were the thoughts of all the parents who’ve had to bury their little ones unexpectedly before they could even celebrate Christmas together. I imagined being one of those parents and coming home to the empty kids’ rooms and the hidden Christmas presents that now will never be given and my heart broke for what they must have be going through.

The only good thing that has possibly come out of the Connecticut tragedy is the fact that Obama is finally pushing hard for better gun control, and the other fact of many people supporting that push. All except the NRA, of course, who, not surprisingly, responded with saying something akin to the idea that there should be more weapons in schools so that all teachers could protect themselves from any children or visitors with weapons. Obviously, most of us immediately recognize what a ridiculous and deadly idea that is, and the image that comes to mind is a terrible one filled with many victims and few survivors. The expression “an eye for an eye makes us both blind…” seems fitting here, but perhaps the members of the NRA missed that section in bible class.

Several years ago, I made the conscious decision to leave the US and move abroad and to make my home in London, among the other ex pats and foreigners (oh and the Brits of course). Despite the constant rain and the lack of permanent sunshine, I love it here. I’ve also started to take for granted the fact that it’s nearly impossible, in this country, to own a gun. In fact, it still startles me occasionally when I see special force police with guns — as most policemen here don’t have the right to carry them, unlike in the US. In fact, I think it’s the gun culture in the US and how different it is from most countries that makes the country so much more prevalent towards the kind of violence that occurred in Connecticut, and Columbine before that, and several others in between. It’s just much too easy for anyone who wants to get their hands on a gun to get one, including someone unstable who is on the verge of possibly killing many innocent people.

This latest Connecticut massacre seems to come not so long after another school shooting in the US some time back, and another before then, and another before then. With war and famine and terrorists in this world still, this additional brutality of kids killing other kids (or barely adults killing kids as this time) just seems so much more awful and such a waste of human life. I want to ask “why?”, but I’m afraid that everyone is asking the same question and there still is no answer. But why always in America? Somehow, being in London, I feel safer. And this violence makes me even happier that I’ve moved. But is that the right way to think? We can’t all just move away and keep trying to isolate ourselves from the violence and the death. Even if we try, eventually we’ll run out of places to move to.

Eventually, there needs to be a collective action towards life, towards peace, towards that ever-elusive goal of finding happiness: and not just for ourselves, for the world as a whole.

Today I write this on a day that shouldn’t exist. According to followers of the theories of the end of the world, the 21st December should have been the last day. As far as I can tell, other than the weather being pretty poor, nothing particularly ‘end of the world-like’, or even very different from this time last year, has occurred. I admit that looking outside my window at the persistent rainfall earlier this week, I could have imagined an alternate reality where we all got flooded away. Luckily, however, the sunshine has peeked out just in time, so that scary scenario will be saved for some fiction novel and will never really occur. But this end of the world discussion out there has me thinking more than I should about what it should really all mean. Are people so eager to cling to the end of the world theory because they can’t figure out any other way to make this world a better, safer, happier place to live in? Are they secretly hoping that we start from scratch instead of working to create a better place that we all like to call home? So many are fed up with what they face as a daily reality that they’re willing to even entertain the thought of more than half of humanity being killed, or dying off (as in some scenarios I’ve read about) in order so that the remaining bundle could have a chance at making it better going forward. Are people becoming so desperately fed up with our reality that they’d rather face the threat of total destruction than continuing as we are?

I prefer to believe in the hidden goodness of the humanity that we have here already. I would like to think that we are moving towards something better together, and that maybe this latest tragedy will help us understand just how important it is for our hearts to be in the right place as a collective group. If we all choose life, peace, and happiness, I do believe that together we can make it happen. It’s not realistic to stand somewhere and hold hands and sing songs of peace as a world together, but it is realistic to all put our hearts into that place of making the world that we already have better for all to live in: those already here and those not yet even born. I want to believe that there is a brighter future here tomorrow for myself and my children, and for the children of my friends and my relatives. I don’t want to believe that more than half of us have to die before those still living can come to their senses and make the world a better place filled with peace instead of war.

And if you reading this think I sound a bit of a hippy with the amount of time I’ve used the words peace and happiness in this article, well then so be it. If you know me, then you know that it takes quite a lot for me to think outside my little bubble of family and friends and into the bigger picture of changing the world. But I’m fed up now with the lives being taken so carelessly. I’m sick and tired of these constant tragedies following one another. I don’t want to spend my entire two weeks of holiday wondering if my own two little girls will make it back to me safely. These shouldn’t have to be worries and thoughts that we parents should have to think about on a regular basis. We should be able to let our kids play outside without our constant supervision and fear. But we can’t. And we haven’t been able to for ages. I live two minutes from the school my kids go to, but I would never even dream of sending them off on their own, either now when they’re little, or even, I can’t imagine, when they’re older. Certainly, they know the way, and even they have friends heading in the same direction living right beside them. So the route can doubtlessly be considered safe. I even live in a pretty safe area. But I don’t feel safe. I don’t feel secure letting my two little ones off into the world, or even two minutes away from me, on their own. Have any of us of my generation felt that kind of safety for a while? Well we should. Really, we should. Fear shouldn’t be the predominant emotion in our hearts when thinking about our children. We need to be able to enjoy a world where we don’t have to think about whether they’ll come home safely back to us from school, or from wherever. What kind of world has this become that even school could be considered a dangerous place to be? And what can we do to protect our own children in the wake of all this violence? How can we teach them to be better human beings that think about others and the world at hand even better than we do? I don’t know, but I’ll try anything at this point.

Or, maybe, if we just help to guide our children to follow the natural goodness in their hearts, and just keep helping them see the importance of compassion, sensitivity, and a thoughtfulness towards others. Maybe then the goodness inside their own hearts will lead them to do what is right anyway.

The other day, we were in front of a supermarket with my daughters and my older one saw a man selling the newspaper for the homeless, something I see regularly but don’t register anymore. She asked me why he’s out there doing that in the cold and the rain and I gave her as truthful an answer as I could, amounting to something like, “well, he needs the money”. “Mommy, can we give him some money then?” She asked me. I’m afraid to say that I was in too much of a hurry to get us home without getting too soaked then to give her a coin to give to the man. But I didn’t want to discourage her natural kind heart and promised her that we would the next time we saw him there. Well, almost a month later, when I’d of course already forgotten about the incident, my daughters came with me shopping again to the same supermarket. Seeing the same man out there once again, my older one reminded me of my promise last time, “Mommy, remember, you promised and you always keep your promises…” I was so impressed with my daughter’s natural kindness and thoughtfulness towards someone she doesn’t even know, that I immediately sent both of my little ones with a few pounds for this man, not sure what his reaction would be. My natural reaction, I must admit, was one of embarrassment at giving him money (a strange reaction as I realised later, but probably not an uncommon one). But the man was truly pleased. He thanked my daughters profusely and even waved a thank you at me. In fact, in the end, everyone felt good from this small act of generosity.

Since then, we’ve kind of made this a more regular thing and I now give my girls a coin to give to someone who they notice whenever they ask me (with some exceptions of course). But it was my daughter’s natural goodness that melted my own discomfort and embarrassment at the situation and that helped make me a better person too.

So maybe the trick is to listen to the natural goodness of the future generation we’ve created rather than assuming that we, as parents, have all the answers, to encourage rather than discourage them in the right path. Maybe, it’s their pure good hearts that will help lead the way to better years to come. Maybe our job as the adults guiding them is just to teach them about compassion and goodness, to make them aware of the value of humanity and how important it is to try and solve issues in a peaceful way that is mutually-beneficial to all and the wastefulness of violence. If we just guide them to be thoughtful and concerned about others in their world, perhaps the natural goodness within them will help them to do the right thing even in difficult times to come.

So a Happy New Year to all of us out there hoping that the year coming will be better than the one just gone. If we all just work on making ourselves and our reaction to the world we live in, and the people around us better, we can change the world through this mutual desire for something greater than what we have now. I know we can do it. After all, the world is just made up of us people, so what it takes to change it, isn’t more catastrophe and death, it’s the love and respect for life and desire for peace that we all have within us.

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