To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee, One clover, and a bee, And revery.
The revery alone will do, If bees are few.
--Emily Dickinson

Sunday, September 30, 2012

From foe to friend

Recently Rose and Emma taught Jason and I a lesson, a lesson we've struggled through the years to teach them.

Since Rose and Emma were little my husband and I have been trying to teach them the art of forgiveness. When they fought (as only sisters can) we made them apologize to each other and then directly afterward utter the phrase, "I forgive you." Granted, in the heat of the moment, when they're still so mad at one another they're spitting apologies through gritted teeth, the forgiveness part seemed pretty futile. But in that moment they didn't have to believe it, just say it. Because I believe that something, once spoken, has power. I didn't need them to believe and understand forgiveness when they were 4 years old, I needed them to say it, to practice it, so that somewhere in their brains they would begin to understand that forgiveness is just as important as the apology.

We don't discuss forgiveness a lot in our culture. We're Americans. We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We overcome poverty, fight against injustice, and take no prisoners until we get what we want. We don't apologize to the people we vanquish along the way to reach those goals. We also don't ask forgiveness for the manner in which we achieve the things we want.

So we're not really good at apologizing and even worse at forgiving. We don't want to let go of the conflict. We want to relive it, savor our response if we thought we were the winner or hold on to it because we were the loser, the person trampled by the other. We want to lock that hurt up tight and keep it close so we can be reminded of our humiliation and plot our revenge.

People seem to confuse forgiving with weakness. The act of forgiveness is actually an act of freedom. It's a letting go of anger, resentment, all those darker emotions that everyone feels and then needs to get rid of. It's a release of the emotions that could hold you back, cloud your judgment and numb you to the good stuff like joy. It's difficult to fully experience joy if you're holding onto the hardship.

So we want Emma and Rose to know about forgiveness. To function in this world, they need to be comfortable receiving it as well as giving it. Forgiveness is a gift.

In the Bible, Jesus forgave. He urged his followers to forgive freely. Forgiveness is featured in the model prayer, the Lord's Prayer, and even on the cross Jesus asked God to forgive his tormentors, the very people who had put him there.

Forgiveness looks fine and dandy on paper. it sounds nice and easy when you're sitting in the church pew on Sunday morning with your shoes shined and your halo on. But it's much harder to pull off in real life. In fact, I'm not that great at it. It's hard for me to let things go when I feel slighted or stepped on.

Recently, Rose and Emma set an example of forgiveness for me to follow. In January, when we moved to Texas and enrolled the girls in a new school, we had bully trouble. There was a girl in Rose and Emma's class who decided to throw her weight around. She wouldn't let the other girls eat lunch with them or play with them at recess. She made fun of Rose and called her names. Often in those first few months, the girls came home in tears about the slights and insults this other little girl was dishing out. They finally allowed me to talk to their teachers about the situation. The school immediately took action and the bullying behavior stopped.

When it came time to create the guest list for their laser tag birthday party, Rose surprised me by insisting on inviting the girl who had given her so much heartache. "Really?" I said. "You can only invite two friends from school. Are you sure?"

I wanted to make certain Rose understood what she was doing, but I also was having trouble with her decision. I hadn't forgiven this little girl yet for the grief and tears she'd caused my babies, so I couldn't understand why Rose or Emma would want her at their party.

"Are you sure?" I asked her a second time.
"Yes, mom. It's okay," Rose said. "I've forgiven her."
"Yeah, we forgave her mom." Emma chimed in. "She's really nice now. Everything is okay."

I shrugged and sealed the last party invitation.

And you know what? They were right. Everything was okay. At the party, there was no name-calling, no hard feelings. Everyone had a good time, played together and laughed. I overheard the little girl who had given Rose and Emma such a difficult time express remorse that she hadn't invited them to her birthday party. I think she gained a whole new perspective on Rose and Emma by being included in their birthday celebration.

And Rose and Emma taught me that forgiveness is still a gift and something that should be practiced -- often.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Security over sanity?

The first week of school was the usual rush of packing lunches, filling out forms and placing ourselves firmly back into the familiar arms of the school routine. Amid all of that hustle and bustle, I was most disturbed by the lockdown drill that Rose and Emma practiced in their second grade room.

My elementary school was located in a small, Midwestern town. We had our fair share of drills. For fire drills we shuffled out onto the dewy grass and stood there talking and laughing, caught up in our own elementary-age drama while the teachers did head counts and then shouted the all clear to go back inside. For tornado drills, we crouched in the main hallway, backs against the wall, arms protecting our heads, whispering jokes to each other. We were participants in these drills, but we were distracted participants. Because even in second grade, we realized the odds of a fire or tornado sweeping through the school were remote.

Fast forward to Rose and Emma's generation. They're almost eight and they've never known a time when they could walk to the airplane gate to greet someone or kiss them goodbye. They're post-9/11 babies, born and being raised amid terrorist threats and heightened security. They're growing up in a world where school and public shootings are more common then we'd like to acknowledge. Remember Columbine? How about the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colo where 12 people were killed and 50 wounded during a movie? And let's not forget Tucson last year when U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 17 others were shot at a grocery store meet-and-greet. The gruesome list of shootings goes on and on.

So why should it surprise me that my children now do a "lockdown" drill at school? The idea is to teach the children how to react if a gunmen enters the building. During the first week, their teacher locked their classroom door and the whole class huddled together in a corner. Their principal pretended to be the "bad guy" and jiggled the doorknob trying to trick them to come out. Rose and Emma proudly told me that Ms. Sierra's trick didn't work. And then the drill was over and their studies resumed.

I'm sure the intent of the school district is to keep the children safe. But I wonder if the drill is so much about safety as it is teaching them fear? I'd rather the school didn't teach Rose and Emma to dread the unknown, to fear a mad man with a gun and a twisted vendetta. Plenty of fear already exists in the world that adults must grapple with daily, I don't think the schools need to start teaching it to our children. All the eye-opening horror and the grisly side of humanity will come as soon as they learn to flip on the news. And if a mad man should appear, do I really want them to respond by huddling in a corner behind the flimsy lock of a school door?

You see, I'm not comfortable with any of this. Not the lockdown drill or the need for it or the reasoning behind it. As a society, we shouldn't meet the twisted truths of mad men by instilling our children with fear. Then the mad men with the guns have already won without lifting a trigger finger.