When a military psychologist went on a shooting spree in Fort Hood last year, the principal at my daughter's last school had a moment of silence at the assembly, after explaining that it was for the "men and women who were fighting for our country who were killed by gunshot wounds..." I wanted to punch him in the nose. Sadie was in kindergarten and she looked over at me - thankfully I was there for some award presentation or fundraising something before I headed downtown to work - and I threw her the most comforting, loving look I could. I waited for her to ask about it later but didn't bring it up when she didn't. I did speak to the principal, reminded him that not all parents choose to leave television news spewing around the house or talk about developmentally inappropriate subjects in front of their children. I threw out my Marriage and Family Therapist credential, my master's in psychology, to impress upon him that five year olds don't need to be hearing about massive shooting sprees. They can't process that kind of rage and violence. I can't process that kind of rage and violence. And I'm about to be 40. That may have been the day I decided to search for a new school. A school where the people in charge really take care of our children, consider them their children, consider them precious. I believe we have found those people and that school.
When I was teaching first grade in South Central in 2001 - yep, that's right, I done a lot of things - I woke up, as did the nation, to the 9/11 news. I didn't have a child yet, and if I had I suppose I would've had to figure out a very simple, clear way to explain the mass mourning, the national fear, my own tears. I wonder how I would've done it. What I would not have done - and what many of the parents of the children in my class had done - was leave the television on, burning those terrifying images into the brains of six year olds. How do they process that? How do any of us?
Yesterday as we watched the football play-offs at a new friend's house and Sadie took photos of their cool 5-year-old boy shoot baskets in his toy hoop, and we ate Po'boys and cole slaw and tried to comfort the pregnant, hardcore New Orleans fan mom with soothing words and a thimble of wine, I kept feeling like something was terribly wrong. Some lunatic shot 12 people in Arizona and we were watching football. Practically speaking, there was nothing we could be doing from L.A. to help the congresswoman fight for her life. I prayed or sent good energy or whatever version of that I do. We comforted each other at halftime in veiled words so our precocious children wouldn't tune in. But what could we do?
What I struggled with yesterday, and this morning when I lay in bed, my heart pounding, my body aching, and my brain saying - Get out of bed! - to no avail (though obviously it eventually worked - I've made it as far as my living room) is how to do this. How do you watch a football game with friends and laugh at the commercial for an upcoming Owen Wilson movie when a congresswoman is in surgery because she was shot in the head with a semi-automatic weapon? A congresswoman whose nutball teaparty challenger urged supporters to bring M-16s to his campaign rallies and who Sarah Palin depicted with a target over her and encouraged people to "target"? Seriously, that is what s going on. People are being directed to destroy people who don't agree with them. And we're still fighting two wars that no one talks about and people are losing jobs and the ozone layer is disintegrating (is that the right word? Not sure) while congress passes legislation banning science... And now, this blog has officially become Bummer, Dammit.
Okay, enough of that. Here's my point. I can't do the "positivity" thing with blinders on. I will never be one of those women with the creepy frozen smiles insisting that "everything is great, for goodness sakes! Chin up! Turn that frown upside down!" Oh, I'll turn that frown... I will never be one of those parents who watches her daughter fall down and scrape her knee on the playground and tries to plug the crying by saying, "You're okay." I want to turn to those parents and say, "Um, clearly she's not okay, what with the tears and all." I understand the desire to decrease the panic, but come on, people, we can admit that falling down hurts. We can admit that things aren't looking so hot, environmentally speaking, that scientists aren't just being negative nellies when they point out that frogs are showing up all around the world with seriously weird genital structures. We can acknowledge that hermaphrodite frogs aren't a good sign.
The whole point of me writing about positivity is that being positive and enthusiastic and optimistic is not my natural stance. I would even go so far as to say that in this day and age, it's not a natural stance for anyone. It's pretty easy to be pessimistic. One of my favorite cynic friends told me about a study that showed that in a survey of people who identified as optimists and pessimists, the pessimists' world views were actually much more realistic than the optimists'. If you see the world as it actually is right now, it quite naturally leads to pessimism. Ergo...and stick with me on this one...a positive stance becomes a radical choice; a constructive, conscious decision to push against the natural flow, since the only thing I feel clear about is that following that negative flow will drown us. Maybe we are ultimately meant to drown, but I'm not going without a fight.
By making a choice to paddle against the malaise I feel when I ponder the insane consumerism, the de-prioritization of public education, the increasing racism and xenophobia, the industrial military complex...(Oh, I could do this all day), I'm deciding to fight. And the only way I know how to fight at my age, in my life, with my family, is to do small, everyday good things. I'm not going to leave my husband and daughter to go camp outside of the White House, but I can help build a great public school. I'm not going to live in a village in Chiapas and make sure the Mexican army isn't intimidating villagers (like I did in the early 90s), but I can write about what I believe, help build up someone else who's having a crap day, hug my daughter so hard she says, "Mom, please." I can show up for people the best I can. And I can love. Nineteen-year-old me - living with radicals in Nicaragua, marching on Washington against the first Gulf War, wearing a "F#&$^@ The New World Order" bumper sticker on my leather motorcycle jacket - just threw up a little in her mouth. Oh well.
When the next Travis Bickle (Google it, under-40 and over-60 readers) nutball goes out there on a shooting spree, I can't stop him. But I can try to shove as much love and empathy into this world as he shoots hate and destruction. I don't have a semi-automatic love machine (that sounds dirty), but I'll do my best. Positivity Dammit, out.