I struggle, like most parents I imagine, with how to explain to my child the violence and hatred we see displayed every day in the news. When 9/11 happened, I was so glad Ryan was only a toddler, as there was no way I could have possibly turned that event into something her child mind could comprehend… not without scaring the bejeebies out of her. My adult mind didn’t understand it. And it doesn’t understand what happened yesterday at the Holocaust Museum.
Last night, when Ryan was checking her email, she saw the news blurb about the shooting on the Comcast homepage. She asked me what happened. I explained. She was quiet, thinking, I’m sure, about our recent trip to the Holocaust Museum. Ryan, with her strong sense of self, was horrified at the idea that she, with her brown skin, would have been considered ‘inferior’ by Hitler and his followers. When we talked about the fact that there are still people who feel the way Hitler did, and who act upon those feelings by committing terrible, cowardly acts, she was shocked.
All she wanted to know was, “Why?”
How do you answer that? I told her it was about ignorance and fear, self-righteousness and narrow-mindedness, and, often, the perversion of religion and faith. I explained why it’s so important to open ourselves up to diversity and change, and why we must never, ever judge a person by the way he looks or the way he prays.
Last night, we read the preliminary reports about the shooter… he’s a white supremacist, an anti-Semite, a Holocaust denier. He’s also 88-years-old and he’s clearly lived a long life full of hate and anger. Ryan was disgusted. I was, too.
This morning, the subject was still on her mind… and mine. She asked me if the shooter was going to die. I said I didn’t know. She said she hopes so; that she hates him.
Part of me was proud that my daughter sees and is horrified by the injustice of racism. Part of me – maybe a bigger part – was saddened to hear the words, “I hate him” come from her, especially at 9-years-old. That feeling hit me hard, in part because I was thinking the same thing about the shooter last night.
I suggested to her that maybe, instead of hating him, we pity him. She was incredulous.
Ry: How can you feel sorry for him?! He’s horrible! He’s full of nothing but hate!
Me: Maybe that’s why I feel sorry for him. Can you imagine how black and mean his heart and mind are and how ugly his life has surely been? I think that’s very sad. Don’t get me wrong, I hate what he did. Absolutely. I hate it whenever anyone hurts another person. It's like when you lie to me. I hate that you lied, but I don't hate you. See, hate only creates more hate. And you know what? It doesn’t solve anything. Ever. It makes people do awful things and then other people seek revenge by doing something equally awful and it goes on and on and on.
Ry: So, don’t you think he should be punished?!
Me: Of course! Pitying someone doesn’t mean letting them off the hook when they do something wrong. But you know how I think he should be punished? I think he should be shut in a room for 12 hours a day, every day, for the rest of his life, and forced to look at big pictures of beautiful non-white and white people mixing – people of all races and religions and sexual orientations – living together, living their lives, helping each other, being happy, getting married, having babies, being successful. I think he should be bombarded all day, every day with the world as it really should be, and is in many ways – not the world as he’d like it to be. Can you imagine what sort of punishment that would be for a person like that?
Ry (laughing): He’d probably explode.
Me (smiling): Well then, you’d get your wish in the end, wouldn’t you?
Ry (thoughtful): I guess the hate has to stop somewhere, huh?
Me: It does. So how ‘bout we try to stop it right here, in our little corner of Pigsknuckle.
Ry: It’s not easy to do.
Me: Nothing worthwhile ever is.
Ry: Then I’ll try.
Me: Cool beans. So will I.