May 12, 2013
I heard this weekend that a taskforce in Newtown, Connecticut has unanimously voted to tear down Sandy Hook Elementary School and build a new school on the site http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/relief-in-newtown-as-task-force-recommends-razing-and-rebuilding-sandy-hook/article11877430/ . Such are the powers of trauma, of memory, of the emotions of loss. The building itself has become a horrific reminder of the tragedy of December 14, 2012. An elementary school should be a launching pad for the hopes and dreams of our dear young. When I think of elementary school, I think of joy and connection, children learning and playing with each other and feeling loved and cared about by teachers, parents and friends. As it is described, Sandy Hook has become a magnet for tourist mourners; I shy from calling them gawkers because I do believe that so many people were deeply affected by the murders. This shooting touched our deepest feelings of vulnerability – our vulnerability for children, dependent on grown-ups to protect them and care after them, and the vulnerability of the awful knowledge that we have fallen so miserably short.
I empathize, as best I can as an outsider, with the emotions of Newtown residents. There is a feeling to undo the damage of the killings by razing the building and building anew. “Out, damned spot!” as Lady Macbeth said. There is a wish not to identify with the tragedy, to not become a stopping point for tour busses, a wish to forget and move on. A wish to not stain future generations with a memory too horrible to contemplate.
I’m sure that new things bring hope and relief – but I also know that external circumstances cannot transform the underlying realities. We live in a society stained by violence, by hatred, by division. We must keep struggling towards love, inclusion and responsibility, which seem like such inefficient choices in a world that seems half-bent on speeding us towards disconnections and disparities between neighbors, communities, and nation, and distancing from our natural home, Earth.
We have an American Narrative, one that is both exalted and tragic. When I see the Mall of America in Minneapolis, I remember the Ojibwe people who once roamed these lands freely. When I see our great cities, I can’t help but reflect on the genocide of Native Peoples, and their continued sufferings. Slavery was woven into the economy of the South, and Black communities still suffer disproportionate violence and all the effects of poverty and racism. Rights we take for granted in 2013 were fought for with blood and sweat of laborers, immigrants, people of color, gays and lesbians, men and women. There are many “original sins” in our national narrative, ways that brutal violence have been used to oppress and extinguish less powerful groups. The victims of Sandy Hook are currently the most prominent victims of our national narrative. Does redemption require tearing down all our buildings and beginning anew?
I think it requires remaking ourselves, instead. We need to shape our narrative for a better future.
They estimate that rebuilding the elementary school will cost $57 million dollars. While I totally understand the imperative – I wonder if there’s a different and deeper therapy possible. Could Sandy Hook become “The Newtown Peace School”, with a curriculum focused on nonviolence, respect, and compassion, training a generation of skillful youngsters who are already primed to care about peaceful solutions to conflict? With $57 million dollars, the whole school system could re-orient itself this way, bringing in artists, psychologists, storytellers, filmmakers, politicians, activists and more to not simply give the children virtues and morals, but help them creatively expand their capacities as peacemakers and deepen the groove of compassion and wisdom in the entire community. It is the harder path, but an expansive, life-affirming potential arising from death.
This has happened before. After the Hiroshima bomb blast, a young girl named Sadako Sasaki was stricken with leukemia. She began folding origami cranes as a wish for peace and life. A Japanese legend tells that if you fold a thousand cranes, you get your wish. Sadako died before she completed her thousand, but her classmates completed them for her. The folding of cranes became a national enterprise, and now, millions of cranes are sent to Hiroshima from all over the world, and Hiroshima has become an international city of peace, where tens of thousands gather every year for the anniversary of the bomb blast, crowding into a Peace Park where an eternal flame burns in memoriam and hope. The hearts of many Japanese children and adults are tuned towards peace through this action.
Where there’s a scar, there must be a star. Our wound must be a womb for growth. Or, as Rumi wote, “The light enters you at the bandaged place.”
The question for adults is “how do we protect and nurture our children?” Our children know the answer. Eight-year old Martin Richard wrote the answer in his sign: “No more hurting people”. He became a victim in Boston. The children will lead, but we must follow, we have to follow their dream, because it is our deepest human dream, and most sacred wish. It is also our possibility, if embraced.
This is not a news cycle. This is a movement. It’s time we started thinking of it as such.
Dedicated to all our Mothers, this Mother's Day.
© 2013 Ravi Chandra, M.D. All rights reserved. Sign up for a quarterly e-newsletter: www.RaviChandraMD.com. Facebook page: SanghaFrancisco. Twitter @going2peace. Please share on Facebook, etc.!