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We all knew, know, or were children who endured emotional crises that echoed into their adulthood. My mother used to say you can fix anything with enough love. As a long time educator and stepparent, I’ve learned the hard way she was wrong. Even love can’t erase damage, although it can help the victim cope. The scars lie dormant until a time when challenges feel too great and resources feel too limited and then the scars begin to seep blood again.
What the re-opened wound might mean depends on the victim and the circumstances. Sometimes it means a breakdown in coping mechanisms, leaving the victim vulnerable and dysfunctional—at least for a time. Some manage to claw their way back to a productive life—over and over again. We can all name famous people who grew through damage to contribute significantly to history.
However, some don’t escape. I remember a boy who refused to learn to read—even as he reached manhood—because his mother had literally thrown him away when he was young—leaving him in a dumpster to die of exposure. He was easily intelligent enough to read or do anything else that interested him, but he had been convinced he was garbage and garbage doesn’t prevail. One exceedingly bright, promising woman who had been persuaded she was inferior by a mother who disliked her refused the marriage proposal of an affluent boyfriend she loved dearly because she felt unworthy. She died before she reached old age from prolonged battles with depression and alcoholism.
Sometimes the consequences of emotional injury inspire the victim to become a perpetrator, using violence to create a sensation of power. By the time the victim becomes the offender, we’ve often forgotten what went wrong those many years prior. We’ve forgotten that we brushed aside problems such as a badly broken family, emotional abuse, emotional illness, or societal insults, concentrating instead on our immediate concerns. The victim wasn’t our child, after all.
The simplest answer, of course, is for us to protect children, bolstering them with love, education, and structure that make them feel safe and confident. But recent events such as the shootings have demonstrated clearly and cruelly that we can’t always shelter our own children, not to mention those of others. They have to go into the world—of school, of society. Some will be taunted and mocked for simply being…a different skin tone, a different culture, a different religion, or perhaps a different sexual orientation. They won’t understand why, but they will understand what it is to be despised. We all react to being hated.
The saying goes, if you can’t do good in the world, at least don’t do harm. What messages are we sending to the incarcerated children of immigrant families ripped out of their parents’ arms? A number may be “accidentally” funneled to child traffickers—becoming objects for someone else’s sick desires. All are treated as criminals for…being. They’ve done nothing wrong. Many have suffered terrible deprivations to reach “the promised land” with nothing but their families for strength. Now they’re caged “animals,” alone and unloved.
In a way, I envy the clueless citizens who assume they and the ones they love will always live above terrible emotional crises because they’re more deserving in an undefined way, so they feel no compunction about the cruelties visited on others. They must sleep dreamless sleeps. However, I don’t envy the fact that they feel justified in persecuting someone else’s children. We are what we do. And when we allow other people’s children to be damaged, we’re sending more broken souls into a world they will share with our children, with us. If “…such is the kingdom of heaven,” (according to Matthew 19:14 of the Bible), why aren’t the “believers” stepping forward as champions?
What kind of people are we if we don’t care what happens to children, to our collective future?
Poignant and powerful. You’ve asked a hard question.
A highly placed friend used to say “Once we know better, we must do better.” Do we simply “not know” or are we, as you suggest, merely complacent, protecting our own peace and privilege? Facing our dark heart is a terrifying prospect, but writing like this helps the rest of us find a bit of courage. We can’t all rise successfully from our traumas, but it’s certainly easier with others.
The myopia many have concerning the impact of what we do in the present and how it will impact the future astounds me. Surely we have enough scars from trauma in our population to demonstrate the good sense of preventing more where we can. Truth demands courage, as does a loving heart.