To have a child
is to forever have your heart
walking around outside your body
It’s not an exact quote, but it’s as accurate a description of my thoughts on the thing as I’ve seen yet. Our latest great-grandchild is Connor, now in his sixth month of sizing up the world and gazing with unblinking curiosity at all of us in his gene pool.
We celebrated his first holiday season with an early dinner at the Olive Garden, four generations of us happily joined around the table, myself at one seat just a week short of my 77th birthday and the rest of us spread along the long timeline between myself and Connor who sat across from me enjoying his dinner in his mother’s arms, bright-eyed and gurgling as he gazed from mother to father to grandmother and grandfather and great-grandmother and great-grandfather, each of us patiently waiting for the chance to hold him.
I don’t know why it is that we can enjoy such blessings while families elsewhere must risk their own children in little boats in choppy seas trying to escape the murderous hatreds of the tribal wars playing out between fanatics convinced that the death of children is the will of their personal gods. The reports are that a million or so refugees have fled to Europe this year, and if you count the families and individuals fleeing from all the troubled places in the world, the total number is high enough to make us all blush with shame.
By what logic does this happen? Where is it written, in any language, in any culture, in the holy books of any religion, that the deaths of innocent children are acceptable collateral damage in the evolution of civilization? Robert F. Kennedy was fond of quoting from the great French writer Albert Camus that while we cannot eliminate the suffering of children, we can lessen the number of children who suffer. Surely the true measure of how civilized we are is how much we lessen that number, or try to.
It’s comforting to know that there are a good many people around the world who are trying to do just that. Some are succeeding. There are doctors donating a good part of their working years to providing health care to kids in impoverished areas; there is UNICEF; there is Children’s Relief International and Save the Children and dozens of other such outfits. May their efforts bear fruit.
There is cause in all that for optimism. I heard recently from Mark Kennedy Shriver, one of the leaders of the Save the Children organization, who is indefatigable in his efforts on behalf of children around the world. To learn how to help him in his efforts, visit www.savethechildren.org
Being a perennial optimist, I may be trapped by my own reading, caught between the realism of Camus accepting that you cannot completely ensure than no child anywhere will suffer, and the stubborn optimism of Voltaire’s Candide who, even after seeing his optimism dashed on the rocks of harsh reality, stubbornly retained enough optimism to keep cultivating his own garden, even if no longer trying to save the world. Still, it is always better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
Long thoughts, for a man holding a smiling great-grandson in his arms. But to him, and to you, my best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.
© 2015 Joseph T. Wilkins