The news is littered with stories of people being killed by law-enforcement officials as well as by each other. Protesters have filled our streets demanding justice on both sides of the law. You would have to live under a proverbial rock to be unaware of at least some of the terror that lives within our borders and beyond.
But still, as is human nature, we go about our lives not thinking that any of the various atrocities that we read about or watch on the constant terror loop of 24-hour cable could actually happen to us. We just live.
That’s exactly what I was doing earlier this week when I took the day off to join my 11-year-old daughter on a class trip to Chinatown in New York City. Never mind that it was literally ice-cold outside and snowing as about 20 of us—students, teachers and parent helpers—made our way downtown. At ages 10 and 11, the children made the most of each moment, laughing and talking, swapping giggles and back slaps, all the while anticipating their field trip to learn more about the ancient culture that they are studying in class.
I felt so fortunate to be able to observe them. At this tween age, they are beginning to exercise a bit more independence and test out developing personality traits as they also cling to some of their babyish ways. There remains a semblance of innocence about these children that is so precious and, at the same time, so mercurial.
In making our way downtown, we had to transfer trains at 42nd Street-Times Square, one of the busiest subway stations in the city, all the while passing hundreds of fast-moving New Yorkers who were eager to get to their destinations. It was then that the scene abruptly changed.
Where often there are musicians playing for coins in the halls of the metro system, this time there were heavily armed law-enforcement officers. And these officers—the so-called boys in blue—looked more like military. They were dressed in black and bearing what appeared to be AK-47s. And they were everywhere—to our left, directly in front of us. When we turned right to get to the train, we headed directly toward a line of them, weapons in hand.
This was not the “community building” moment that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio or Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has been encouraging us to cultivate. Who knows what red alert brought out these officers in such full force? It wasn’t a day of particular protest. It was before the horror in Paris that just extinguished 12 innocent lives. It seemed like a regular day.
As a group we quickly moved past them, attempting to shield our children’s bodies and awareness. Thanks to the distraction of the field trip and the icy wonder of walking around as snow kissed their noses and eyelashes, the children seemed to let that frightening moment pass.
It wasn’t until the next morning that I discovered what impact that momentary scene had had on my usually confident and happy child. As she was waking herself up, she was fretful. I thought it was because she had stayed up too late the night before. She clarified that she had had “another nightmare.” In this one she dreamed of the weapons-bearing officers she had seen the day before. And she was dumbfounded.
Attempting to dry her tears, and refocus using her big-girl lenses, she wanted to know why New York City would allow police officers to carry those weapons at this time, right after some of them are being told to wear body cameras to try to get their behavior toward citizens—particularly brown-skinned ones—under control. She went on in dismay, asking why she continues to have nightmares. In last week’s episode, she was at our hair salon when random people came in and opened fire.
While I can limit her exposure to daily national news, she is 11, and she does move about the city (always chaperoned) as she lives her life. I can talk to her nonstop about being careful, about being respectful to police officers, about how rare it is that a mentally unstable person or even a terrorist attacks innocent people. The reality, however, is that uncertainty about our collective and individual safety lingers like bad perfume in the air.
If we are honest, the stench of instability is suffocating our country and our world. Limiting the horror only to children for a moment, remember the Sandy Hook Elementary School children who were massacred in Newtown, Conn.? Those images have burned a hole in our collective heart. Turn to the heartland and shudder at the lost life of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was “brandishing” a toy gun in a local park, because of trigger-happy police. Cross continents and go to an education exam in Nigeria and recall the more than 200 girls who were abducted by Boko Haram and have not yet been found to this day. Look toward Mexico, where 43 people have been missing since September, while just this week a mass grave was found that may point to clues.
What is happening in our country and our world? And more, how can we protect our children when such lack of regard for human life prevails? I do not believe that wielding automatic weapons in the subway in the very spots where people look forward to hearing live music is a viable answer. I refuse to accept that a show of what seems to be military strength goes particularly far in the effort to rub a salve of peace into our local and global souls.
As one who has practiced meditation for more than 20 years, I am clear about the power of intention in guiding and protecting our lives. My husband and I feel so strongly about this antidote to the evils of the world that we have been instilling this message in my daughter since she was born. This morning as she fretted, I reminded her to bathe her spirit in the recitation of sacred mantras when she feels afraid. She promised that she had been doing just that, but she said the nightmares did not get washed away. The terror wakes her up again and again.
I do not wear naive glasses. I know that I cannot shield my daughter or our collective children from all the ills of the world. I do believe that we can teach them ways to build alliances rather than either run in fear or dare to point back at a weapon with a weapon.
I will continue to guide her using all of the tools in my practical and spiritual arsenal. And still, I’m left with being unsure what to say when my daughter wakes up next time with a new nightmare that too closely reflects the temper of our times.