I was at a program a couple of weeks ago where children with autism and/or who were on the spectrum were performing in a holiday recital.
The atmosphere was a mixture of excitement and poorly controlled chaos. Some of the children were wide-eyed and expectant. Others had no life in their eyes at all. Some ran around the venue, parents chasing them, others sat stone-still or rocked back and forth making quiet noises.
On stage, some performed so well that one would not know they had a developmental issue. Others merely stood and made noises. My daughter, a music therapist, was the organizer of the recital, and she literally worked wonders with the children, both those who were high functioning and with those who were more challenged.
What I noticed, though, is that most of the children in this school and therefore in this recital were white; there were only three African American children. The sight stopped me cold, because surely, there are kids of all ethnicities who are born with autism and other developmental issues, but they were not represented this evening.
The observation took me to my belief that there are many children in poor, urban and rural areas, who have autism but whose parents either cannot afford the specialized care they need or are too young or too fraught with their own issues to recognize that there is something physically wrong with their children. Instead of getting care, they get yelled at, whipped, called names and are put down by their families. Then, they go to school and still, nobody recognizes that they have a developmental problem, and again, get chastised, criticized, put down, are ostracized, called names, labeled behavior problems …and they live lives of utter despair.
I imagine it must be like a person who has had a stroke and whose cognitive abilities are still intact but who cannot talk or communicate. He or she is at the liberty of people who do not understand and, unfortunately, often do not care.
These children enter the cradle to prison pipeline. They have a hard time in school; they must find themselves by themselves and many never do. Once they are pubescent, they are on the streets where they find some relief from feeling inadequate and stupid and bad. They find friends who like them and seem to respect them and they do what they can do to stay connected to what becomes their family.
That family, however, too often leads them deeper and deeper into the streets and the lure of excitement and danger offered by the streets. Too often, little kids with autism or other ailments grow up totally untreated; they are miserable children who grow up to be adults in despair. They push and fight and claw their way to try to find light and normalcy in this life but often fail.
They are killed, or they kill. They are arrested. They are convicted and put into prison, and they die.
As I watched these little children, my heart ached. There must be something we can do. There must be a way to form a foundation or something so that these children can get the same love, care and attention other, more privileged children receive. All children need that, no matter their color, ethnicity or class. If humans do not get care and love, they disintegrate, inside, spiritually and emotionally.
My guess is that there are more children than not being labeled bad who are really sick.
We who are able need to care about them and somehow, do something to help them.
I have waited to write anything as I have watched the developments in the story of the horrific shooting in Oregon because I had to think.
I had to think, to wonder, what is going on in America, and what I came up with is that America is not safe anymore.
I had been thinking that for a while. I am no longer comfortable going into movie theaters or any public venues, really. When I drive I am really conscious of using my turn signal and watching my speed — which I always did, but with more intentionality now. I think of Sandra Bland, now dead, after she was arrested for <a href=”http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/21/us/texas-sandra-bland-arrest/” target=”_hplink”>allegedly not using her turn signal</a>. I think of saying things, writing things, to let people know that if I end up dead in someone’s jail cell, that I did not kill myself. I take time to pay attention to the things I warned my son to take note of when he began driving, because I was afraid for him as a black man in America, a young, brilliant, handsome black man in America whose life is never safe here.
America is not safe — not because of international terrorism or ISIS, although ISIS as a force exists. America is not safe — not because of black on black crime. Yes, we in the black community need to be concerned with the destruction of black lives wherever and however it happens, including in our own communities. The one thing GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson said that I agree with is that all black lives matter. There is no doubting that the destruction of black lives occurs in black communities.
But that is not why America is not safe. Black people for the most part do not target and kill white people. Black people, most often go after other black people. Back on black crime is not the reason America is not safe. America is not safe because of white on white crime, because of this tendency of mostly young white men, angry with the world, or angry at their circumstances, and definitely angry at the government, think the way to handle their anger is to go into public spaces and just shoot, or kill masses of people in whatever way they can.
I remember thinking how unsafe America was when Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I was angry at them for targeting a building with innocent people — including babies — inside. It’s OK to be angry with the government; that is part of being a citizen in a country, but to just bomb a public space, or to just go into a public space and begin randomly shooting, is a punk way to handle the anger. It is a punk way and it is despicable and it is cowardly.
The coverage of the shooting in Oregon has rung hollow for me. Our politicians are more concerned with holding onto an illogical insistence that “common sense gun laws” will keep people from owning guns. Pro-gun advocates insist that more people having guns will reduce gun violence and deaths from gun violence. It is insane and illogical reasoning, borne out of a stubborn resistance to “big government.
The sheriff of Douglas County, John Hanlin, does not believe there should be any kind of gun control and even suggested that in the Sandy Hook situation, where 20 <em>children</em> were left dead, might be a conspiracy. He posted a piece on YouTube after that incident, saying that “there has been a lot of deception surrounding the Sandy Hook shooting.” He suggested that the grieving parents might be “crisis actors.”
This, from a “law enforcement” officer.
There has been much talk about these young men, mostly white, who go into public spaces and gun people down. They are bad people, the experts say. They are mentally ill.
Perhaps. But the point has been made that people who are mentally ill are more likely to kill themselves than others for the most part. And, the case was made by President Obama, that in other modern countries there are just as many young men who are mentally ill, but we don’t hear about them gunning people down like they do here.
Attempts to explain the behavior of the mass shooters have relied as well on profiles, saying they are angry. Lots of people are angry. They don’t mow people down.
No, there’s something else going on. America’s culture is one of violence; the people from the Mayflower came into this new land mowing people down, specifically the Native Americans who were already here. We are a violent society. One of our core American beliefs is that the way to handle anger and to acquire and keep control of others is by and with violence. Cowboys were violent. Those who settled the West were violent. The debate over slavery was handled with a horror called the Civil War.
The answer, actually, to Dr. Martin Luther King’s campaign of non-violence, was violence. White people actually said that his non-violent campaign was inspiring and forcing violence in return.
America, with its core value of violence, is not safe. These young men, staunch supporters of the Second Amendment, are good, wholesome American citizens, with American values.
That’s what’s scary, and it’s at least one reason why America is not safe.
The late Whitney Houston sang a song that moves me every time I hear it. “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” is a powerful exclamation of self-affirmation, set to music, a kind of “in your face, tribulations!” rendition offered by a woman who had been through a self-created and self-imposed hell but had come out standing.
If only she had truly believed what she sang, enough to have left the drugs and alcohol alone.
Though I mourn her exit from this life, her song resonates with me. Several people I know have said that 2013 was a horrible year; the latest article in The New Yorker about President Obama written by David Remnick says that for the president, that was certainly the case (annus horribilis, writes Remnick).
That phrase apparently applies to more people than I originally thought. My best friend nearly died and was on life support for two weeks. Two good friends of mine lost their mothers; another acquaintance lost her grandchild in a tragic and horrible accident. A woman I know lost her husband of over 30 years suddenly. “I had no time to prepare,” she said to me one day, tearfully. “I don’t know what I will do …”
So many people shared with me how 2013 rocked their worlds…and my2013, well, let’s just say that “horrible” is an understatement.
But in spite of bad (or horrible) times, it is amazing that all of those people I mentioned, as well as myself, are still standing. We have not lost our minds or our will and resolve to live and thrive. While every one of those people I mentioned could relate to my experience of being so hurt and shattered that it hurt to literally breathe, they made it through. They, as well as I, didn’t know our own strength. It is bad and/or difficult times that teach us that.
Some years ago, I heard Deepak Chopra say that “bad” times are not bad; they are actually “good,” he said, because from them we learn our most valuable lessons. It is from bad times that we become stronger and we recognize the strength within us that we just do not think about and therefore cannot tap into.
The more we push against the adversities in our lives, the more we push the unmovable, the more muscular our spirits become. Our spirits become “toned” by the hard work of pushing against that which wants to take us out. The late Nelson Mandela pushed forward, though he was imprisoned for 27 years because he dared stare apartheid in the face and become in a movement to bring it down. I talked with a young man who withstood being wrongly arrested and convicted of a crime he had not committed. “I made it, Rev. Sue,” he said. “I made it.” He doesn’t know what his life will look like from this day forward, but he withstood an experience which he would only say was “horrific.”
Life was never meant to be easy; unfortunately, we all learn that. Life is meant to shake us to our cores…Tears are necessary from time to time. Depression caused by bad times must, I think, help in the strengthening process. The good thing is that not all of the “trials” we are to go through come at the same time; they are merciful enough to spread themselves out. Theoretically, by the time the “next” trial comes, the strength we have gained from the previous one has kicked in.
When I think of Whitney Houston, I think that perhaps the strength she had within her hadn’t kicked in yet; it was new. She was coming face to face with it, and getting to know herself in a new way. She was a stronger Whitney who had faced the lions of adversity and come out standing. That was her strength …
But her legs were not strong enough yet. She could stand up but couldn’t remain standing.
My prayer is that the strength I have come to realize I have is sufficient to keep me standing …as well as the strength in every single one of the persons I mentioned above. Every single one of them were knocked down by life. What they went through took the breath out of them. They …and I …found out how hard it is to breathe, let alone stand, when a tsunami overtakes us.
Knowing the strength we have inside is only the first part of surviving trials and pain. What we must do …and perhaps what Whitney did not do …is nurture and feed the new self that emerges with new strength. Otherwise, we might fall down, like Whitney did.
That would mean that the pain we just got through was wasted. That, somehow, is unacceptable. The experience of annus horribilis, though distasteful and unpleasant, is a gift. To not stand up in spite of it …just doesn’t work.
It is very hard to understand why any politician would be opposed to paying people a living wage – meaning, a wage that would allow them to live with dignity as opposed to living as virtual slaves to an unfair economic system.
It is clear that capitalism and democracy are not one in the same thing; apparently, if Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson had a face-to-face conversation, they would lock horns on principle: capitalism does not pretend to want to, or to be about, providing a level playing field for all people, as democracy purports to be about.
But to be against helping people get paid what their work contribution is really worth seems immoral. Actually, allowing poverty, or ignoring it, seems to be immoral too, especially in such a wealthy and religious nation. It seems like more and more, people are just a beggar’s cup away from abject poverty.
There is nothing “happy,” though, about being poor. There is nothing “happy” about having to choose between food and medicine, or between diapers or milk for the baby who needs the diaper. Many families cannot afford diapers; hence in some places diaper banks have been created. Many elderly do not have enough to eat. And many adults are working their buns off with hardly anything to show for it except extreme fatigue and deepening depression.
There seems to be such an insensitivity to the poor. In China, Kang Xiaoguang, Professor of Regional Economics and Politics, actually said, publicly, “Although there are hundreds of millions of workers and peasants, they don’t count. You can ignore them. You can also rob and exploit them. It’s not a problem. The most important thing is to get the powerful on your side.”
While Xiaoguang’s statement is harsh and insensitive, it is hard to believe that he is not saying out loud what many people feel. When President Obama said, in his 2013 State of the Union Address, that he wanted Congress to approve a hike in the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour, he apparently caught Republicans and some Democrats off-guard. The president said, “Today, a full-time worker making the minimum wage earns $14,500 a year. Even with the tax relief we’ve put in place, a family with two kids that earns the minimum wage still lives below the poverty line. That’s wrong. That’s why, since the last time this Congress raised the minimum wage, 19 states have chosen to bump theirs even higher. Tonight, let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty, and raise the minimum wage to $9.00 an hour.”
Those who are criticizing big government are not impressed with the president’s suggestion, nor are they apt to seriously consider it, and those who stay far enough from the poor to see the misery in which they live are not likely to “encourage” their state and federal lawmakers by threatening to withdraw support for them if they don’t raise the minimum wage.
If you do not see poverty, it is easy to minimize it and the suffering it causes.
Before the 2008 election, CNN anchor Lou Dobbs said, over and over, that America was losing its middle class. He seemed not to get a lot of support, and I don’t remember what his solution was to the problem, but the fact is, Dobbs correctly called that there would be a crisis of the middle class, which has come to be.
The state and federal jobs which allowed so many people to reach middle class are shrinking, as are the manufacturing jobs. There are jobs available, but many of them require technical training which the vast majority of people do not have.
“Find a way to go to school and get some training,” those who are insensitive would say, not understanding that the working poor don’t have a penny to spend and would probably not qualify for a student loan. The working poor often cannot take a day off, or refuse to take a day off, even when they’re sick, because they cannot afford to miss a day’s wages. Their families suffer, as do they, in all areas of life.
Marco Rubio, who delivered the GOP rebuttal to President Obama’s speech, said, “I don’t think a minimum wage law works.” Addressing and raising the minimum wage would threaten the creation of jobs, those who oppose big government would say, but what kind of jobs? Probably more that are wont to pay workers what their work is worth.
It is no secret that wealth often accrues on the backs of the poor, with the poor getting little benefit. But there is something inherently wrong in that. There is something wrong with a system that allows the wealthy to make and hoard more money they can ever use, while those whose labor made them rich can barely make ends meet.
Professor Susan Thistlewaite, in her book, Occupy the Bible, encourages a moral and religious response to the issue of poverty. She spends a lot of time addressing the debt students are in who took out loans to go to college. Too many of them are not only struggling financially, but they are struggling emotionally as well. To not be able to find a job, or to get a job which does not pay a living wage, is demeaning. Many former students are committing suicide, she writes.
Thistlewaite encourages the religious of our society to read the Bible and interpret it from the perspective of those who struggle with poverty and financial hardship. The struggling don’t have trouble doing that; the wealthy would probably toss it off as Liberal dribble.
But there is no “dribble” in the fact that in this nation there is an oligarchy, not a democracy. There are too many people struggling to obtain the bare necessities for themselves and their families. The Republicans have criticized President Obama for the fact that more people receive food stamps than in the previous administration, but without help, how are the poor and working poor supposed to make it? To require and expect them to work for the increase of profits for the wealthy and then to give them pittance in return …just does not seem right.
In fact, it seems that in doing that, the wealthy and powers that be are merely ignoring the poor.
The pervasiveness of poverty is not new; the society in which Jesus lived was as imbalanced economically as are the societies of China and Haiti and our own nation. But what is troubling is that it feels like it’s getting easier and easier for the wealthy to act like the poor and working poor don’t exist, that they are whiners and takers, like …they don’t matter.
Perhaps if nationally there could be a shift or an outpouring of programs that teach the poor how to compete in our global economy the picture could and would change. The poor don’t want to be poor; many of them are stuck and don’t know how to get out. Some would rather die than take government assistance. They don’t want a hand out. They want a way up and out of their economic misery. Poverty causes people to live in despair and depression; suicide is not all that uncommon for those who have simply given up hope of their lives ever getting better. There is a lot of domestic abuse amongst the poor, and children end up being ignored and neglected, which causes a host of social problems. It doesn’t make sense to ignore and/or ignore the poor. Poverty ends up costing money …but then, those who are investing in private prisons, the so-called Prison Industrial Complex, would not care about that because their wealth is built upon the backs of the hopeless and despairing.
You have to have eyes to see that, though, ears to hear it, and a heart to receive it. That, apparently, is what is missing in our great nation.
In the ongoing debate on gun control – or more accurately, control on the sale and use of military assault weapons and magazines that have large numbers of bullets – we are hearing that there needs to be more attention paid to mental illness. Mandatory background checks are being touted as a way to weed out people who should not be allowed to purchase guns, and those background checks supposedly would be able to identify the mentally ill.
But WHO is mentally ill, and who is not? How does a background check really identify people who are really mentally ill, even if evidence does not say so?
What prompts this is the interview that Piers Morgan of CNN had with radio host and filmmaker Alex Jones last week. I was stunned by what I was watching. Alex Jones was completely out of control; his face was contorted and he would rise off his seat as he “warned” Piers that “1776 would will commence again” if anyone tried to “take away our guns.” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtyKofFih8Y)
It was horrible to watch. I kept thinking that Jones himself …was mentally ill. I kept thinking that he was such a hot head that he probably didn’t need to be walking around with a loaded gun.
Some people have been diagnosed with classic mental illnesses – including schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder, but many people are probably walking around with those ailments who have never been diagnosed, and who lead relatively harmless lives. Would their illness be caught?
Maybe and maybe not, but what is more troubling is that many people who are not technically mentally ill have some mental “issues” that might make them dangerous with a gun. There are people who carry deep rage against spouses or former spouses, against the government, against a former employer. All we have to do is review the sad cases of an estranged spouse showing up at a workplace and taking out the one whom he apparently “loved.” There are people who do not know how to handle conflict, sadness, rejection, betrayal…and they become desperate. How would those people be screened and identify? And isn’t it a fact that any of us are capable of doing something horrendous, given the right set of circumstances?
There are police officers who probably should not carry guns. They are legalized thugs, some of them, and others are apt to shoot first an ask questions later, depending on a given situation. What does one do with them? They can carry guns legally. All they have to do is show a badge, I suppose, in any gun shop or at any gun show, and they are free to purchase what they want. What about men who rape? Are they mentally ill?
Yes, the nation, the world, needs to pay more attention to mental illness. We need to stop making it a shameful thing to have a mental illness and accept the fact that it is just that – an illness. Perhaps the gun massacres, especially this last one in Newtown, Connecticut, will get serious discussions going and plans in place to handle mental illness differently than we have. Maybe there will be ad campaigns that let the people know that having a mental illness is not something to be ashamed of, but is, rather, something that should be treated, like diabetes or hypertension. It is long past the time that we, the supposed greatest and strongest country in the world, change course in the way we deal with mental illness and in so doing, encourage the rest of the world to do the same.
Actually, the conversation swirling around controlling the sale and use of assault weapons are interesting. Nobody is talking about taking away the right of Americans to “bear arms;” the conversation is about controlling and perhaps banning a certain kind of gun. Is it a sign of mental illness when one cannot “hear” what the conversation is about? There is no conversation at all about taking away the right of people to purchase and own guns as a general right. Are those who are ranting, like Alex Jones, mentally ill?
It will be interesting to see how the conversation about mental illness goes, and what decisions are made in determining who is and who is not mentally ill. I would suppose that more people than we know are really mentally ill, and it is high time that we look at that fact and deal with it.