The devastation at Plaza Towers Elementary in Oklahoma in 2013 evoked praise of teachers as heroic–deserving of greater respect (and more money.) This made me wince. Wouldn’t most adults protect a child in a crisis?
What children need to survive (and thrive), day in and day out, is steady care; and that’s what teachers give, every day, and that is truly heroic, as any engaged parent can tell you. But morning circles and afternoon chapter books and daily playground disputes don’t grab us (and our pocketbooks) like stories of shielding children from bullets or collapsing walls.
Tragedy sells because it is both sensational and sobering–capturing our flickering attention–and fiercely aligning us with our shared human condition.
Look how swiftly we met the basic needs of water, food and medical attention in Oklahoma–without debate or policy–and without care for race, religion, political party, sexual orientation, citizenship or employment status.
No one can deny that this Nation has a big heart. But it comes with a muddled mind.
Take a look at Sandy Hook in 2012. More than 800 volunteers were needed to sort through all the teddy bears, and food, and supplies, and money, and all manner of support, until they finally had to say: “No more!” while children continued to be killed by guns all over the country.
This paradox of attention reminds me of a film that I saw just before becoming a mother. “The Paper,” directed by Ron Howard in the nineties, was a film about the news industry; and there’s a scene in it that’s never left me: a charged moment between a husband and his (very) pregnant wife.
Actors Michael Keaton and Marisa Tomei are on the sidewalk outside a New York City restaurant where Keaton, the editor of the New York Sun, has arrived late, again, and has just informed Tomei that he needs to return to work right away.
Tomei, who is on maternity leave from the paper, hollers at him at the top of her lungs, while Keaton, embarrassed and alarmed (and in a hurry), efforts to calm her down.
“I know I’m shouting,” Tomei says. “Don’t you notice? I keep talking louder because you haven’t heard.”
“Heard what?” Keaton says.
“How scared I am,” she says, wrapping her arms around her belly.
“I swear to God I will be there,” he tells her. “You mean more to me than anything else. You know that.”
She shakes her head, tries another tack. “Let me give you a hypothetical,” she says.
“Really?” Keaton responds, looking at his watch.
“A guy breaks into the apartment,” Tomei says. “He’s got a gun, holds it to my head. He says: ‘I blow your wife’s brains out or I blow up the News building.’ Choose. Now. What do you say?”
“What do you think I say?” he says. “It’s ridiculous. It’s not gonna happen.”
“That is exactly my point,” she says. “It is never one big dramatic choice. It is little situations every day… and you’re either there or you’re not.”
Tragedies, like Oklahoma and Newtown, and the most recent violation of innocence in Syria, are like the guy with the gun, reminding us of what’s at stake in our shared humanity; But truly caring for others means making choices on their behalf, day in and day out, and that will never be as sexy or heroic (or apparently as deserving of our praise and dollars) like dropping a bomb.
The world doesn’t need another Disney Dad.
Well-balanced article: Trump Was Right to Strike Syria – The New York Times