Wednesday, December 19, 2012

For Which I Stand

“I pledge Allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” 
                   -- Pledge of Allegiance as amended, 1954

How many of us have stood proudly facing the flag with our right hands over our hearts, earnestly intoning these words? It’s a memory for me that goes clear back to Mrs. Orne’s first/second grade class at the Chatham Center Elementary School in upstate New York.

This week, my heart is heavy and the country symbolized by the flag to which I pledge allegiance is traumatized by the senseless slaughter of innocents in Newtown, Connecticut.  If the recent election did not show how divided our country is, surely the waves of angry comments for and against gun control on Facebook and Twitter do so now.

We, the people, are the Republic for which our flag stands.  The question is what do we stand for?  For me, it’s simple: the Children.

I stand for childhood, that wonderful time of innocence and exploration.

I stand for the outdoors and fresh air and all the opportunities that nature presents to kids to learn about the earth we live on and the foods we eat.

I stand for parents of all genders whose devotion from the moment they start caring for a child NEVER wanes.  The loss of a child at any age is inconceivable, a wound which no amount of consoling can possibly bind and heal.  But the loss of so many six and seven year-olds is appalling to us all.

I stand for public servants of all kinds, but especially for teachers who are increasingly tasked with the “job” of raising our children, feeding them, sometimes clothing them, and teaching them manners as well as ABCs.

I stand for first-responders who step into every situation, regardless of any personal danger, and take care of our children, whether they are in school, in a mall, or in a movie theater.

I stand for those who care for and treat our children for all illnesses, whether they are physical and mental.

After the Columbine massacre, well-intentioned counselors descended on the high school, anxious to begin the process of healing that devastated community.  Someone had the good sense to ask the children what THEY wanted.  It turned out, most of the students didn’t want counseling at all.

The previous year they had worked with some professional (theater) artists and created several original scenes that had been highly successful at engaging the entire school community—as theater usually does.  The school contacted the artists and re-engaged them to help understand what had happened,  create a narrative context that could help people understand the motivation of two of their own to do such unspeakable acts, and then share the results within the community.  This was the ONLY thing the students cared about, according to my colleague from Colorado who reported this story to us at our next national assembly of State Arts agencies.

For years I’ve been arguing that the arts inspire us, unite us, bind our wounds, heal us, fix us, and set us back on track.  Perhaps I am wrong about that.  But I have learned over the years, to trust the voices of children.  In the sad and sorry context of Newtown, CT, the children of Columbine have much to offer. Perhaps we should let their experience serve as a guide. 

I’ll stand for that.