Many commentators and pundits have remarked at the poetic irony of 8-year-old Martin Richard’s handmade sign- “No more hurting people… Peace,” the President even quoting the young man in his memorial remarks. This has seemed prophetic to some, and empty platitudes about how we should all live this young man’s example have abounded from mainstream media. I’ve felt something else though- familiarity. People seemed genuinely struck by the coincidence. This young man, taken away from his family, friends and community calling for an end to this senseless violence.
I wasn’t surprised at all. Teens, and even children in Dorchester routinely have days and projects for peace. Park dedications, paintings of murals, and the annual Mother’s Walk for Peace takes back the streets of Dorchester every Mother’s Day. I don’t know if Martin Richard’s poster was for any such occasion. I don’t know the family, and I wouldn’t pretend to assume the intentions of an eight-year-old little boy I’ve never met. It’s much more likely though, that his sign was a call for peace in his community than a condemnation of terrorism at large.
In 2011, my Co-Director at Press Pass TV Joanna Marinova led our organization in putting on an incredible exhibit called Anonymous Boston, that examined dozens of young lives lost too soon, many, like Martin Richard, hailing from Dorchester. Kim Odom, who took part in the exhibit, has a journal of writing from her son Steven, who was 13 when he was killed, full of pleas for peace in his community. Tina Chery, the Executive Director of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, that runs the annual Mother’s walk lost her 15 year-old-son, for whom the institute is named, while he was on his way to a Christmas party for a group called Teens Against Gang Violence.
Last Monday, many people’s sense of safety and security was shattered as those bombs went off. For many children in parts of Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, Oakland, and other communities that face persistent violence that sense of safety didn’t exist before those bombs went off, and in the week that Boston mourned, rightfully, for the three lives lost at the marathon, 2 other men were shot and killed. I am not in any way saying that what happened last Monday was not different. I am simply asking, that if we really want to, as the Washington Post suggest, “listen to Martin,” then we will do more than try to stop violence. We’ll ask the harder questions of how we can begin to stop people from hurting, everywhere, and truly build peace.
Yesterday I stood just a few rows into the standing section for the Presidential Inauguration listening to Myrlie Evers-Williams give an inspiring Invocation. While she got a little bit of flack on the internets for incorrectly saying that Obama is the 45th President (maybe, like many of us, she is hoping for a different Obama in the second term), I was moved by much of her speech and it’s tone setting of inclusion, equity and respect
May the inherent dignity and inalienable rights of every woman, man, boy and girl be honored.
And as I listened to this incredibly accomplished and powerful woman speak, I had to strain to catch all of the words, because less than 100 ft away and just out of the reach of police ladders in a tree, a jackass screamed throughout the entire ceremony about “baby killing democrats,” the “American Holocaust” and “Obama the baby killing anti-christ.” There was something so gnawingly offensive about a man screaming about being pro-life OVER the words of a woman who had to teach her children how to duck and cover when they heard gunshots and fought for three decades to bring her husband’s white supremacist murderer to some semblance of justice after he bled to death in her arms on their front lawn. By the end of the Inauguration I wanted to throw rocks at this guy, because not only do I find his lack of intellectual arguments and lazy rhetoric infuriating, but because my persistent morning sickness and hormones were making me particularly irritable. That’s right I am both vehemently pro-choice AND blessedly expecting my first child.
I have been pregnant for three and a half months, and in this time I have become more sure than ever of two things:
(1) Conception and the entire pregnancy process is a miracle
(2) Life begins at birth
Right now I have the incredible potential for a human life growing inside of me. Each new change in my body feels miraculous and as a soon to be Jewish convert, I do feel a spiritual connection to this, a confirmation of G-d’s design in this incredible science. And also I know that this growing life is incredibly fragile and cannot exist without my body feeding, nurturing and enabling it to fulfill its potential to eventually be a human life. For 14 weeks I have been nauseous, irritable, exhausted and my body has become incredibly foreign to me. I have felt flutters where a hopefully someday son or daughter is growing. I am grateful for this because my husband and I planned to begin a family. We’re both established professionals, I have a doctoral degree, we own a home, by the time this child is born we’ll both be in our 30s. We feel ready. And because I had access to excellent reproductive healthcare, we didn’t face a choice of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy ever.
Many women are not so lucky. For any number of reasons that I have absolutely no right whatsoever to question or ask them to justify they may be faced with the choice whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. For anything from “a pregnancy at this incredibly fragile time in my life would completely shift its course in a way I cannot handle” to “if I try to continue this pregnancy it will not be viable and I may die” a woman may need to undergo a procedure to end a pregnancy. I believe that both of those reasons are equally valid AND I believe that it doesn’t matter what I believe because in neither case is it my body.
But adoption is always an option…
No, it’s not. It just isn’t. There is a man I drive by or walk by a few times a week, who stands outside the Planned Parenthood near my home with a sign that says “Adoption is a good option.” How does he know? Asking a woman who is not prepared to endure the 9 months of pregnancy and consequent labor to go through all of that and have to give the child away because YOU have a belief that it is against the rules to stop a pregnancy is the oft made argument from “pro-life” men who ironically have little righteousness to spare for lives or lives lost after they’ve left the womb (I direct you to this incredible speech on the House Floor from the inimitable Congresswoman Gwen Moore). The suggestion that women who choose (or don’t but have to) terminate a pregnancy are callous or unthoughtful is rich coming from men who so casually suggest a woman grow a baby inside her for 9 months and then give it away without a thought. To say nothing of the potential trauma endured by carrying a pregnancy that is the result of rape or incest.
But make no mistake, reproductive rights is not ONLY critical because of a woman’s inherent right to choose when NOT to use her body as a vessel for growing human life, but also her right and freedom to choose when she does want to create life and with whom. If you want to reduce abortions- support comprehensive sexual health education in our schools, demand more protection for women in abusive relationships, and stop closing centers where women can access contraception and preventative care. To say nothing of the support we should be providing for new parents so that they can make the decision whether or not to have a child without fear of taking food out of another hungry child’s mouth. In the meantime, to suggest that a woman makes an easy choice when she exercises her RIGHT to terminate a pregnancy is beyond callous. I was 11 years old when John Salvi walked into a Planned Parenthood about 40 miles from my home and shot and killed receptionist Shannon Lowney. The Planned Parenthood around the corner from my home is one of the newest in the country. It’s on reinforced beams to resist bombs. When I’ve gone there for preventative care, I have to surrender recording devices, cell phones, and submit to a search by the guard at the door. The women that work there have to do that every day. So let’s not throw around accusations of violence so casually. They’re living under that threat every day.
In the wake of something as categorically horrific as the execution of 20 first graders and six women who tried to protect them, it is many people’s instinct to ask “How could G-d let something like this happen?” Well on Fox News this weekend, Mike Huckabee cleared that up for people, by saying G-d wasn’t there because “we’ve systematically removed him from our culture, from our schools.”
And so I sort of agree with that, except I don’t. Because while Huckabee insists that he didn’t just mean that we don’t have (Christian) prayer in schools, his clarification isn’t much better:
HUCKABEE: No, my point is a larger point — that we have as a culture decided that we don’t want to have values, that we don’t want to say that some things are always right, some things are always wrong. When we divorce ourselves from a basic sense of what we would call, I would say, collective morality where we agree on certain principles to be true always, then we create a culture — not that it specifically creates this crime. It doesn’t. But it creates an atmosphere in which evil and violence are removed from our sense of responsibility.
Ok, A#1, I am pretty sure that we “as a culture” are pretty clear that mass killings of children is ALWAYS WRONG. What he’s talking about here is that when we don’t all ascribe to his perspective on religion’s warped sense of power then G-d somehow punishes us for insolence. So here we disagree. Vehemently.
But here’s where we agree. I do not believe that G-d wasn’t present, because as a soon to be Jewish convert, I believe G-d is in all of us. What I believe is that many have turned their back on that. Not by gay marrying or choosing not to carry a pregnancy to term, but by the many ways we feel to recognize one another’s humanity every day. By judging others harshly and refusing to cast the same glare on ourselves, by assuming our path is the only one that could possibly by righteous or good, by refusing to give up some of what we have so others can survive, by being complacent in the face of injustice. By not examining our lives every day to ask if we have done enough to repair the world around us, and by not clearly asserting our value for human life through political will and policies that protect our communities.
There’s an old joke about a guy who’s stuck in a flood and several people try to help him from drowning, but he turns them all away, saying he knows G-d will save him. When he dies, he asks G-d why he didn’t save him, and G-d responds that he sent him several people to try to rescue him. Instead of absolving ourselves of responsibility in the name of religion, let us embrace the humanity we’ve been granted with and do all we can to make people’s lives a little bit easier and our world a little more just.
If you need some inspiration, watch this emotional statement from Robbie Parker, who lost his daughter Emilie in the shooting in Newtown. If this man doesn’t know G-d, I don’t know who does. His humanity is overwhelming.