Last weekend, our family gathered in Stone Mountain, Georgia, to celebrate my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. I must hasten to add, my folks are still relatively young—they married right out of high school, had me by age twenty, and the avalanche of four kids and their spouses, twelve grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren, along with spouses, dogs, cats, and horses. We spent the weekend sharing a Holiday Inn Express breakfast area and their home—telling stories, laughing late into the night, and torrid games of Uno at the hotel with three of our aunts who came to help and their spouses.
I was humbled as I listened to my elders tell stories about us, realizing how large the protective covering of love was for us. My Dad was one of nine, my mother one of eight, and one who died at birth. A large family is chaotic sometime, but as my Aunt Johnnie philosophically puts it, “Oh, we argue and fuss and get mad but we always keep getting together.”
We have known our share of heartbreaks, losses, tragedies and struggles, all of us. But we keep getting together. There is something astounding about families, something enduring, durable, that transcends politics and economics. Dirt poor was always not as poor as the people down the road, and besides, “we always had each other and enough to eat. So we didn’t think we were poor.” That despite clothes made out of anything mothers could find and food they grew themselves.
Into this melee this weekend came my own children and my only granddaughter. She didn’t quite know what to make of this cauldron of strangers, not knowing that in most cases she shared their genetic codes and history. They rode home with us, and we have spent time doting and watching every move, occasionally taking her out in the world with us for some ice cream and a walk at the mall and multiple trips on the $2 merry go round at the Galleria, a brilliant marketing strategy that guarantees return customers.
When we take her out, I drive carefully, watch her like a hawk, no, more like an old Navy Seal, ready to pounce on anyone who dares to threaten a hair on her little beautiful head. They’ll have to deal with me, and I’m old and slower, but for her, I’d lay it all on the line. That’s how you feel.
So I am absolutely frozen by the juxtaposition of a massacre at a midnight movie in Aurora, Colorado, a short drive from where our family once lived; an aborted child-snatching in Philadelphia as a two year old stood screaming and which hounded the perpetrator on social media until he turned himself in; and the sentencing of Jerry Sandusky and the whole sorry spectacle of a predator who used fame and athletic celebrity to prey on the most helpless of all, and for an inexcusable cover-up by the institution who allowed him to do it. All of these struck at the heart of our modern lives–athletics, a simple entertainment experience, and walking home on a public street.
There will be debates—we must never allow such things, how do we keep guns away from those who do not cherish life, and on and on it will go, mostly funded and shouted by people whose least concern is children. But children, like all weak and innocent ones in our midst, ultimately depend upon our collective fierceness about their safety, the value of all their lives, and our sense that the protection of the young on our planet, all of them, is our utmost duty.
How we do it begins with the recognition that every child in my sight deserves the Old Navy Seal, the doting grandmother and the protective neighbor. We will not stand by and let it happen. We will come when they cry. We will drive the predators from our midst. And we will keep them safe. It is the first and most basic responsibility that comes to us in adult life when we bring them here. To do less simply will not do. I am ready for a different set of debates–how to make the world safe for children everywhere. Get that done, we can move on to the rest.