I received this week a photo from a friend, and it gave me pause. It featured her little girl, not yet three-years old, inside a barn. A green apple on the stall for her horse. The child was smiling. Her eyes beaming at the camera. And while it certainly was spontaneous, catching her in a rare “still” moment, it seems she knew of the moment’s importance.
Her plump little cheeks, so typical of the young, framed a look of contentment. Her curly hair brushed from her eyes. The photo exuded innocence and joy. The essence of childhood we let go as adults. Most of all, the photo exuded peace. After the last few days, anything encouraging a smile, offering a sense of hope, was welcomed.
The photo took the mind away from body counts, questions of motives or dark plans, of officials derelict or conscientious of duty. No pronouncement of political ideals, recourse or shame. No complaints of this group or that. Of grandstanding or the interpretation of 230-year-old constitutional theory. No discussion of who was right and wrong.
The photo revealed nothing of who saw it coming. What they would’ve done if given the right tools. Nothing of geopolitical consequence hung in the balance. Elections hinged not on the moment. Civil rights were neither inspired nor denied. No one feared outing themselves to family or friends. No one judged those who had. No what-ifs: If they’d gone home a few minutes early or if they’d stayed a few minutes longer. No heroes. No victims. No surviving guilt.
As a boy we lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation. The threat of Soviet bombers attacking overhead. The sound of an air-raid siren signaling us to hit the ground, crawl under the sanctuary of our desks and cover our heads. Our desks were certain to protect us from the explosion, the nuclear plume, the resulting radiation. It seemed only logical to sit far from open windows.
Such was life in the 60s, a society purging itself of the memories of two wars, not unlike today. Suburbia, where life was easy, streets safe, and everyone knew someone who’d flown combat over Germany or stormed the beaches at Inchon.
Yet even then, long before this photo, we complained. About loud music, poor selections at the market, the length of our hair.
Then the 70s and 80s came along and our fears turned inward as rust belt cities began to unravel, manufacturing was replaced by automation and foreign companies became more competitive. All the while, we became more comfortable. The air-raid sirens fell silent. We had television to broadcast warnings.
Decades passed, as did one threat after another, but we lived on without so much as a stutter in our step. Televisions lost their dials and we were left with remotes. We would survive without leaving the comfort of our recliners.
Still, we continued to complain. About airport security, gas prices and traffic along our highways.
Then bombings reached our shores. The parking garage at the World Trade Center and the federal building in Oklahoma City. We looked up at our televisions and saw tragic events continued to occur … but always someplace else. September 11 exposed us to a new level of mayhem. We screamed for revenge, we toppled governments, replaced them with regimes corrupt in different ways and blamed opposing parties for the demise of our half-hearted attempts. When the troops came home we showered them with glory and gave them inadequate veteran’s care.
And, of course, we complained. Give the veterans what they deserve, but don’t raise my taxes. And what’s this nonsense about 3 ounces of shampoo.
We surrendered our grasp on the political system and allowed it to polarize into a body of inaction. Mass deaths became the currency of the disgruntled, the angry, the fanatical. Madmen were foreign and home grown, idealistic and self loathing, inspired by religious text or misplaced ideals.
And we complained. Of teen pregnancies and sexual orientation. Of religious dogma and the sign on the bathroom door. Of public versus private. Of peace versus war.
The world of my youth, where imminent annihilation hung in the air, was replaced by a world where mass killings were commonplace. We became upset and frazzled but not a bit surprised. We’ve seen all of this before at Columbine. Then in San Bernardino and Brussels, in Paris and Sandy Hook. And now in Orlando.
And we argue the cause and what might be the solution. More gun control, more mental health access, tighter borders, fewer liberties, more law enforcement, greater surveillance and even third-grade teachers armed to the teeth. And we talk and talk and talk and talk.
We complain, we share theories. We complain, we offer solutions. We’re certain if we solve any of society’s ills, we’ll bring peace to our people and those of other lands. Then we do nothing.
We seek to eliminate weapons on a whim but spend zero time outside the offices of our representatives demanding such change. We don’t take the time to determine what our leaders actually do for six-figure government pay. Half of us don’t even bother to vote. That’s how much we care.
We write stories of sadness and of all that’s gone wrong, we recite poetry of angst, we sing songs of fear and despair. And then do nothing. We just complain. That’s how much we care.
Then I think of the little girl. Who finds life’s joy in sharing an apple with another living thing. Who knows nothing of distress. Who finds hope in every little thing. In the wind, in the rain, in a smile, in a touch. And I want to experience that feeling again. The wisdom of childhood, the insight of the young. Where possibilities abound. Where hope is alive.
And with that I no longer wish to complain. I want to take leave and end the discussion. It’s time to take action. For as her smile says, I truly do care.