The Orlando shooting shows the worst of us: the hatred, the intolerance, the fear, and the violence. It shows us that darkness resides here. It shows us that life is fragile–fleeting, even. And, my God, it scares the living daylights out of us.
I am a mother of two and when this kind of thing happens – and it seems to happen ALL the time now – it makes me want to keep my kids home, seal the perimeter, and homeschool them for life. FOR LIFE. When your heart walks outside of your body – in my case, in the form of two tiny little blonde humans – it makes you pretty terrified of just about anything. If anything were to happen to my little girls, I don’t know what I would do (and I write this knowing full well that many parents have lived through something horrible happening to their tiny little humans, including the parents of victims at the Orlando nightclub. And I am in awe of their courage, strength, and steadfastness).
When I was in college, I thought I could save the world. I zealously volunteered where I could and studied the conditions of the developing world – all the while imagining myself an activist. While my endeavors were admirable and well-intentioned, I’m not sure I changed the world much. The world changed me, however.
College turned into graduate school, and graduate school turned into teaching high school. I sat at the table with young, passionate minds and helped teenagers think critically about the world around them. Again, I imagined myself changing the world. While I’m not sure I did much, the world continued to change me.
As I write, I am the mother of two young daughters: both too young to understand the tragedies befalling our country. No, our world. For when freedom anywhere is threatened, freedom EVERYWHERE is at stake. We know this. I wonder, sitting here on my laptop, how am I changing this world now? While I feel the world changing me (with the not-so-gentle hands of toddlers), it’s harder to imagine myself an activist. My “activities” consist of playtime, coloring, imagining, and singing. Where is the activism in that?
But deep down, I know better than to question my role here. I know better than to doubt the sheer power of raising children. For it is when we raise these children that we build the future before us. It is when we raise this batch of small people that we begin to construct a life ahead that is filled with what we want to see in this world: love.
So what can we as parents do during this time? How can we as parents be activists? Of course we can donate to local organizations or volunteer our time with a worthwhile causes. But what about daily? What about in the tiny moments of daily life when we are raising our children?
- My offering is this: We can raise “upstanders.” Not bystanders–upstanders. We can raise men and women who will not be people who stand by while the world happens but people who stand UP and make the world what we want it to be.
- We can raise men like the Swedish grad students on their bicycles, who stopped to fight on behalf of a woman in need.
- We can raise women like the ones who fervently collect baby carriers for Syrian mothers fleeing the terrors of their homeland.
- We can raise people like the first-responders who rushed towards the explosions at the finish line that spring day in Boston.
- We can raise people like the teachers who threw themselves in front of other people’s babies to shield them from bullets at Sandy Hook.
- We can raise people who stand UP to the kind of fear and hatred we see on our TV screens and around our corners.
- We can raise people who stand UP and don’t stand BY while terrible things happen to the people around them.
I remember the words of Fred Rogers,
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”
Mr. Roger’s mother must have known that she was raising a helper. She must have known that her greatest work was standing in front of her grappling with the scary things. She must have realized her work of motherhood was the greatest activism she could do.
While I don’t have much to offer by means of changing this world, please hear this: by raising your children, you are capable of changing this world. You do not sit on the sidelines. You do not wait for the world to happen to you. For you as a mother, father, guardian, or caregiver have the greatest role: you have the chance to raise the ones who will stand UP for those in need. Who stand UP in the name of freedom and justice and love and tolerance. You as one raising a child have the chance to be the greatest of activists.
So, suit up. This world needs you. Do not lose heart. This world needs you to be strong. To be brave. To grapple. To struggle. To be patient. To be kind. All for the sake of your tiny little humans who will grow up to be one of the upstanders. Oh, and the best way to teach them? Lead by example.