Thursday, January 08, 2009

This Little Light of Mines

Do an internet image search for "kids with guns" and you will discover many things about our world and how different people choose to perceive it. The bulk of the links you'll see topping the page demonize the Arab world by depicting Palestinian and Iraqi children wielding either toy or live weapons. A little further down the thread you'll find photos of child soldiers in Africa, or youth from inner cities—that is, the poorest, most desperate regions of the globe—toting automatic rifles and pistols. Finally, by flipping through a few more pages on Google, you'll strike American paydirt: a land of mom and apple pie where boys and girls (pictured above) are free to exercise their Second Amendment right to bear arms at an early age.

With what's been happening in Israel and Gaza lately, I feel that its my responsibility as a blogger (and as a citizen of the country that funds Israel's military) to say something about it here, and about the hype around kids with guns. I want to say something, but this isn't a blog about politics, it's a blog about dreams and dreamers—31 Dreamers to be exact. Today we'll get to both dreams and guns in a story about a father, a kid, and their relationship to violence and to each other.

We break from the dreams of our city-slicker contributors to visit a cabin in Eaton, New York, from where Jean-Paul, the eighth of the 31 Dreamers, writes this:
I had a dream about my son Jude. He has been really obsessed with weapons lately. It is very strange because I am very peaceful in my politics and never have talked of gun-play or sword-play. I have encouraged wrestling but whenever Jude shows interest in hurting or plays in some malicious or vicious fashion, I stop the game. We have tried to veer Jude's interest in guns to hunting and have said that guns are a tool only for hunting, done responsibly and with care. We got him a pop-gun for Christmas and have invited him to play hunt, etc. We also got him a bow and arrow. Anyway, the dream:

I dreamed that Jude, as an adult, had hurt someone. He had done something that he could not take back, perhaps killed a person. The dream was about a conversation that Jude and I had after the fact. He was remorseful. I was devastated. I felt that I had not done my duty as his parent to prepare him. I had failed in teaching him to control his anger so that he would not hurt someone. In the dream, Jude was me as I could have been. He felt denial. He was confused. Unable to control his unguided anger, he went too far—so much so that there was no turning back. Jail, death perhaps.

I woke with this fear. Jude is a jeweled light. He is a sweet loving boy and yet he has this natural interest in things that kill. I don't get it. It's like psychological DNA or past lives, who knows. It is strange. Jude is such a strong independent character. I feel like he needs guidance to grow into a responsible, peaceful parent. Perhaps I am worrying too much. . .

Quite a heavy dream, Jean-Paul, and full of a beautiful love for your son. There is no doubt that you worry, but the quantity and quality of that worry is a matter of conjecture. Are you worrying too much? I cannot say. Perhaps you begin your day with a little healthy, parental worry. Next you worry that you worry more than you should. Then it's onto worrying that you worry about over-worrying. It is at this point that I'd step in and say, "Yes, you may indeed be worrying too much." Your dream is a sped-up reality stuffed through the worry mill of the possible future. You're right to say that your dream posits the grown-up version of Jude as someone you could have been.  I think that the dream-Jude is as much of a manifestation of you worrying for your own actions as a parent as it is your fear for what Jude may do today or later in life.

We make choices every day that take us in one direction or anouther, like the falling balls in Sir Francis Galton's quincunx (simulated on the right). Experiences can guide us to one side or another of a future decision, which leads us to another decision and then another, affecting the probability of where we eventually end up. But there is no absolute certainty. We may be raised piously with benign parentage in peaceful environs, and yet at some point experiment with decrepit behaviors—such as lying to our loved ones or shoplifting from local businesses and smoking cheap cigarettes with reckless abandon—before we develop into responsible persons who recognize that even the pettiest of actions may lead to a formidable consequence down the road. At the same time we might never indulge in the aforementioned vices of the world and then one day we might just suddenly snap and do something irreversibly horrid that I hesitate to mention to a occasionally worry-prone parent such as yourself.

For most, the quincunx of one's life is not a perilous minefield of hazards that is apt to send us down a path to explosion. Even for those whose way has been riddled by landmines—both real and figurative—there is still hope. I was just reading What Is The What, the autobiography of Sudanese refugee Valentino Achak Deng as penned by American author Dave Eggers. Achak's experiences with childhood attraction to guns are a far cry from what Jude is exposed to. He grew up in a place where children are trained to be soldiers. Yet he has never turned to violence as a solution to the challenges he's faced throughout his trials in Sudan and the U.S. His story makes us understand the layered complexities that can lead to war and refugees and child soldiers. His words are weapons of peace that have the power to disarm evil.

Our United States, in its own way, is breeding child soldiers. Guns and war are glorified and marketed to young people via movies and toys and video games. By the time kids reach recruiting age, the idea of firing a real gun at a real target isn't so far-fetched. The U.S. propagates this culture of militarism in other places. Every Israeli teenager can thank Uncle Sam for providing him or her with the equipment needed to serve their compulsory two to three year term of military service (pictured above). Britain has sent soldiers under the age of 18 to fight in the war that George Bush has left us with in Iraq, and the average recruit to the U.S. Marines isn't much older. They're just kids. With guns.

Jean-Paul, in a society such as ours that rewards violence with promises of money for college, potential career opportunities, and all-out revenge on brown-skinned non-Christian people who allegedly resent the American lifestyle, peace-loving parents such as yourself are exemplary. I plead for your honesty with Jude, brutal as it may be: guns were not developed and advanced so that humans could shoot a moose more efficiently, but so that soldiers could render enemy armor completely useless, blasting holes in it like air bubbles in Swiss cheese. I'm not saying that you should be flashing Jude photos of what's going on in Gaza today, but at least let him know what's going on in the world outside your family cabin. Let him know what you think about things without trying to steer him one way or the other. As he grows, give him the agency and the responsibility to make his own decisions and figure out what he believes. He will grow up to be capable of avoiding the pitfalls and landmines in his own dreams, guided by his own jeweled light, shining from within.

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