When a meteorologist says, "Wow, there's a lot of weather out there," she doesn't mean its a bright and sunny day. On the same theory: wow, there's a lot of news out there these days. War and peace in Kosovo and the world. High stake elections in Israel. Ground zero of the abortion wars, right here in Buffalo, New York (more on "Operation Save America" -- sic/sick -- another time).
And then came Colorado. The paradox of shock. There is so much to say we are stunned into silence.
My first reaction, the first reaction of many of us, was indeed shock. The second, perhaps, if only for a moment, was relief (and then guilt at the feeling of relief): it was far away (for most of us). It wasn't "here." It wasn't our children. But then the disbelief returns. For at some level these were our children. They are all our children. Some schools are doing a wonderful job, now, in providing places to talk. In helping children cope with tragedy on a mass scale. But time passes and the headlines fade. A famine or a draught, a new scandal in Washington, and all this will be off the headlines, and out of our minds.
Yet the task remains at hand.
Our society has so very many pressures. For high scores and good grades, for grace of body and quickness of wit, for appearance and accomplishment. It is so hard to grow up in the midst of these pressures, to find one's own place in the pull of subliminal messages. To know who you are, and connect with others: sex mistaken for intimacy, identity confused with popularity, friendship tossed aside for a better offer with a cooler crowd. We teach our kids so much in so many unintentional ways. Have we forgotten to teach our kids to be kind?
A story of a woman. We'll call her Judy Cohen. It's not her name. But the story is real. And in one form or another, this has happened to more than one person I know.When Judy Cohen was in sixth grade, she began to develop some deformities. Her body shook in weird ways. Her speech was slurred. Her self-image shattered. The kids in her school were unspeakably cruel to her. Her public school -- and her synagogue's religious school. But there was a difference. In the public school, officials acted. They threatened the kids who were the most cruel to her with expulsion. And the problems eased. Not completely. But enough.
And her synagogue's school? Well, what could they do? All we can do is beg our parents to send their children in the first place. Don't throw away a 4000 year old heritage because your kid prefers to play hockey. We beg. We plead. We accommodate. We have no teeth. Expel a kid? For some of our sixth graders (a minority, but some), let's face it. It would be their dream come true.
Things may be a bit better in our religious schools these days. A little bit. But we have few teeth. The cruelty of one child to another is simply worse in a setting where some kids feel forced to attend. For Judy Cohen, at least in her mind, the cruelty eased in public school. In religious school it did not.
Judy Cohen grew out of her problems. She developed more confidence. She grew to have friends. She grew to love her life. Judy Cohen is very, very active in her spiritual community today. They really feel like they couldn't do without her. She came to see its importance because, in college, she found a group that simply welcomed her the way she was. In love. In acceptance. In true community.
Judy Cohen is very active in her spiritual community today. And her Presbyterian Church, they sure are glad to have her.
You know, kindness isn't just superficial stuff. Before we can fill our heads with facts, we must be in a place we feel we belong. But kindness is not just the prerequisite we need in order to learn. Warmth and welcome, kindness to one another is the substance of what we must learn. It is both: the first commandment of community, and the most lasting lesson of life.
Judy Cohen doesn't live in Colorado. And she overcame her problems. But those who feel unwelcome, unwanted, unloved... they are all around us. It will take big hearts to make sure that there is never another Littleton.
"Yitgadal, v'yitkadash...." I don't have a lot to say about Littleton. Only everything.