It’s empty in the valley of your heart
The sun, it rises slowly as you walk
Away from all the fears
And all the faults you’ve left behind
I say I am old a lot. Mostly because I teach teenagers, who keep me young (at least at heart) and because I find it personally ironic since I do not actually feel old. But on days like today I recognize that I am old.
I am old because I watched Fred Rogers in his time and his lessons were reinforced in my daily life. And this was in the 70s when things we like to blame for the hideous shit we see in the news (the economy, world strife, unemployment, resource shortages, racial tension, social inequity) were daily realities just like they are today. Mr. Rogers may have been an easy target for mockery, and I would suggest that these days kindness is far more often mocked than it is revered. One need not look to far to see examples of the nice kids at school being called “pussies” or “fags,” or the President of the United States being denigrated for NOT being a bumptious, belligerent, bully in a national debate, or the metaphoric high-road being that of the weak, ignorant, losers.
The harvest left no food for you to eat
You cannibal, you meat-eater, you see
But I have seen the same
I know the shame in your defeat
I am old because I remember when school was the safest place to be. I do not remember a day that I went to school afraid of anything more than the sometimes awkwardness of growing up. Perhaps that was a gift of the times, the places, or the people I was around. But I do not think that this should be a gift. It is a right. “Freedom from fear,” FDR told us was one of the four essential human freedoms. I remember being bussed into a middle school in the heart of one of San Diego’s most notorious neighborhoods, El Barrio Logan, and the school was the safe haven. It was where my peers came to get away from the madness that was their lives, the sort of which I had never seen before with my inquisitive suburban eyes. Francisco came to school because no one would mess with him there, even though he certainly faced danger on his walk to and from the gates of Memorial Junior High.
So tie me to a post and block my ears
I can see widows and orphans through my tears
I know my call despite my faults
And despite my growing fears
I am old because I come from a time when no one would have ever even considered suggesting that the tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut would have been prevented if the people in the school had been armed. This sentiment is so totally incomprehensible to me I can barely articulate it aloud.
So come out of your cave walking on your hands
And see the world hanging upside down
You can understand dependence
When you know the maker’s land
I am old because I remember when no one believed the news they were hearing out of Columbine, Colorado. The stories were met with disbelief rather than resignation. We promised that we never let something like this happen again. Now I can count, and recall, more school shootings in my professional lifetime than people in most nations would in multiple lifetimes. I am old because I can see how the instinctive need to protect our own – not only our families, or our friends, or our communities – but our species, and especially the youngest of our kind, who turn to us to model for them what it means to be a part of something bigger than themselves, a society, is being lost.
So make your siren’s call
And sing all you want
I will not hear what you have to say
I am old because I have had the chance to travel the world and been in the company of people who have survived unspeakable horrors and still are more frightened of the United States than any place on earth. How can I explain the struggle to understand a young man in Siem Reap who played music outside the night market and had lost both his legs to a land-mine, who on discovering where I was from, asked me if I thought living in America was scary. America scary? I repeated, sure I must be misunderstanding. He shook his head at me and laughed and said, Yes, are you scared of America?
I am old because I remember talking with my college bound students in Hong Kong, the very sophisticated, world-traveling, children of privilege, who had seen so much, and seemed so Western, but were consistently contemplating how they would maintian their personal safety in America. What do you mean? I asked. I think you watch too many movies, I said. No, they said. There are so many guns in America, it is very dangerous there. I shook my head. Today I shake me head in a different way. And I shake from the inside for the children I don’t have but take care of everyday. What could I do for them in the face of this?
Cause I need freedom now
And I need to know how
To live my life as it’s meant to be
But most importantly, I am old because I have had the chance, the privilege, to be allowed to get old. We are failing our children today. “What children need to hear most from adults is that they can talk with us about anything, and that we will do all we can to keep them safe.” We are failing to uphold the social contract, and we are perpetuating a society that will make the Assyrians, the Huns, and all the warring tribes of the past seem docile in a historical comparison.
But I will hold on hope
And I won’t let you choke
On the noose around your neck
My heart is broken tonight, for a country that has lost its way. We are good people. Mr. Rogers knew this. “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.” We can do better than this.
And I’ll find strength in pain
And I will change my ways
I’ll know my name as it’s called again
Peace be with you, Newtown, Connecticut.