The Greatest Love of All: A Rant

It’s one of those things that you might be grateful for, while at the same time finding it burdensome. Your heart gets widened, but more pain can come in, looking for shelter…

When you become a parent, suddenly every news story could be a news story about your child. You become more compassionate for strangers, knowing that every person is someone’s son or daughter; and thus every news story is that much harder to bear.

When you have a child, you get insight into the importance of every single individual human life. It is a blessing, and a curse. (What blessing does not carry with it an embryonic curse? What curse does not curve over the bud of a blessing?)

The recent story of the UVA graduate student cyclist killed on a street I drive all the time near downtown Charlottesville by a city worker is one of those stories that just sets my nerves on edge (my nerves just get ready to hurl themselves over the precipice of my anxiety sometimes). Not only do I find myself empathetically heartbroken for the parents of this young boy, but I’m aching for the truck driver, too. Neither side of the coin offers a desired surface.

These kinds of stories are almost worse to me than the ones about children my kids’ ages who get strangled on blinds or soccer nets, drown in bathtubs or ponds, suffer sudden killer flu or get abducted. At least in these cases, I can try to exert a certain amount of control; I can watch them, can’t I, ALL THE TIME. I can never let them eat a hot dog, I can spray them down with antibacterial scrub, I can leash them to my body at all hours, I can choose curtains, I can never let them play sports.

But after age 18? I’m doomed. All my efforts to comfort myself by exerting control, managing risk moment to moment – no more. The kid steps out of the house and onto the street. She goes to a concert. She goes to bars. He gets behind the wheel of a truck. He goes for a swim. WITHOUT ME.

I feel like I’ve seen a lot of sorrowful, grieving parents in the news lately. I’m also still stunned to have learned recently that the U.S. rates at the bottom among developed nations on a UNESCO scale rating how much countries care about their young. Not to get all commie on this issue, but I partly wonder if one of the reasons kids don’t get treated better here is that they don’t earn money – and while they are a booming consumer demographic, they matter in bulk, as buyers – not as individuals, as human beings. Kind of like the rest of us. Our culture’s consumeristic values governs us, more than our politicians do, or any sort of cultural wisdom.

One example?: If we cared about the safety and well-being of our young, our policies for supporting the parents of those young would be robust, and not dependant on income level. We would ensure that all children received excellent care, had the support and love of supported parents, received healthcare and food and therapy as needed.

Why? Because we doom children – and adults- to the level of care they receive based on their socioeconomic status – it’s a caste system, folks!

  • Not just teachers, but social workers, social services, people who work with kids, don’t get the level of pay and support they need
  • Working parents do not get the support they need to take care of their kids as needed
  • Daycares are often gross; childcare hard to find, and expensive
  • Supplies for kids are expensive
  • Good food, healthcare, are for the pleasure of the rich, not the poor

I guess these things wouldn’t stop that poor guy from getting run over by the truck, or prevent childhood mishaps and adolescent accidents. But there are plenty of suicides, plenty of bullying, plenty of instances of kids making poor choices because they don’t know there’s better ones, they have no one looking out for them, not really – and the sense that we as a society value them or value life in general is vague and beleaguered.

I believe the children are our future, Whitney Houston sang. It’s a stupid lyric, because there’s no belief about it- the children are indeed the future of our society, our world – and how we treat them as children will play out in how they act as adults.

My point? There’s a lot of suffering we can’t avoid or prevent for our children, for ourselves. But there IS a lot we CAN do. And it’s not about being liberal or conservative. It’s about the fact that we live in this world together, the haves and the have-nots. You’re not really giving kids much of a chance or many choices to let them wallow in poverty and neglect when they are little. If we truly believe in the innate rights and goodness of every being, then we need to ensure that every child receives the same amount of care… as a society, as a whole.

I think it is easy to take the pinch of a painful news story and flinch and become overprotective of our own kids. I would hope we can practice empathy and seek to protect and work for the welfare of ALL children. Come on! Show them all the beauty they possess inside!

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2 Responses to The Greatest Love of All: A Rant

  1. Mary Beth says:

    This is a topic that strikes near and dear to my heart. I’ve dedicated my career to a profession that vows to improve the lives of all people. All! Working to value all people is a task much like Buddhist enlightment. It doesn’t surprise me that I/we don’t excel at loving every kind of person all of the time, including children, especially children who have certain behaviors or appearances or characteristics.

    But you are right; we happen to not promote and support and cry out for the injustices of many many children, who happen to be right under our wings. And though adults can be just as emotionally vulnerable as a child, children are tender-hearted, tender-boned, tender-brained. Their developmental pores leave them wholly open to all of the toxins we live amongst.

    I once encountered a theoretical framework about youth development. This perspective insists, “Youth are current resources, not future assets.” This really struck me. “Smart investors only invest in sound investments. There will never be a national commitment to invest in all youth adequately. Commitment will come when there is a strong perception that youth are valuable now for what they can contribute and that there are current valued roles that at risk youth can play.”

    So here’s my social worker Buddhist spin on Whitney’s beloved heartfelt homage to the importance of children: “I believe the children are us, now, just like you are….” (Here’s a fun game for you, finish the song!)

  2. Maiaoming says:

    Wow! Great comment! I remember you talking about that – youth as current resources – and I heartily agree that we need to think of children NOW, and all people now, because, Buddhishly speaking, NOW is all that exists – I don’t even know if “resources” is how I want anyone to be considered – sounds like economics – but yes, yes, you are right, and a good amendment to the song…

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