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The Despair Factor

Some days you feel hopeless. Helpless. This is one of those days. I've been researching and reading for various projects I'm working on and in that research I've seen the faces of too many terrorists and too many destructive people. And every time I look at a photograph of one of those killers - whether it be a suicide bomber or some twenty year old kid who sliced up his ex-girlfriend - I feel despair. I jokingly said yesterday as I stood by waiting for President Bush's arrival that the last time our little town had seen so much media was when Joel Rifkin buried hookers in his backyard. Joel Rifkin, like other murderers and terrorists, was a child once. I knew who his parents were (didn't know them personally but saw them at the library often). I felt such anguish for them. One day you are holding a sweet, sleeping baby in your arms and years later you watch him get sentenced for multiple counts of murder. I had that thought again today as I went through pages and pages detailing the acts of murderers, dictators and terrorists. And then I remember that I once wrote something on the very subject. I'll leave you with that while I go drown my despair in coffee, donuts and work.
[Originally written in October of 2002] Whose Child is This You give birth and moments after you hold your tiny child in your arms, stroke his head, look into his eyes and feel an overwhelming sense of love. You hold him close to your chest and vow to keep him safe forever. You vow to love him unconditionally. As the first days go by, you stare in awed wonder at your child. You listen to his tiny little cries, watch as his fingers curl and uncurl, sing softly to him as his eyes close and he falls asleep on your chest, his tiny baby breaths falling softly on your neck. You imagine what the world has in store for him. In your mind, his life fast forwards and you see your child reaping all kinds of rewards; the honor student bumper sticker, the baseball MVP, valedictorian, employee of the month. Your mind only lets you see great things ahead for your child. You don't look into your baby's eyes and envision him growing up to be a terrorist, a murderer, a junkie. I wonder about this as I watch the news and the cops surround a car, pulling out guns and barking orders. Someone's child is in that car. Sure, he's 41 years old now, but he is still someone's son. I imagine him as a baby, his mother cradling him in her arms, brushing his cheek with her finger and silently hoping that her son will have all the good things life has to offer. That man in the car was a baby once. Someone had hope for him. Someone held him and sang to him. He was a toddler, unsteady on his feet. He was a young boy, watching cartoons and playing ball. What happened to turn that toddler with his goofy, milk-stained grin into a killing machine? I sit at my desk each work day and watch the parade of prisoners that are brought past my office. Some are in orange jump suits, feet shackled. There are men and women both, some well-dressed in business suits and dresses, some unkempt and reeking of alcohol. They all have their arms behind them, their wrists bound together in metal cuffs. They were children once. They were babies who smiled and toddlers who giggled. What does a parent think as they appear in court to bail out that child? What does a parent think when they turn on the news and see their son or daughter's face in mug shot form with the words "wanted" underneath it? I look at the tv and try to imagine killers and terrorists as babies. I see the drug addicts and petty thiefs march into the courtroom every day and I try to imagine them learning how to ride a bike, their fathers holding tight to their arms so they don't fall. As a parent, all you want is to be proud of your child, from birth to adulthood. You want to look at them one day and say "what a fine young lady you turned out to be." I don't care if my kids end up being doctors or professional cashiers. I just want them to be good people. I want them to respect the human race and the earth they live on. I don't want to see their faces splashed on the cover of the Daily News with target signs drawn over them. I think of mothers in other countries, mothers who praise their god when their son dies in a suicide bombing because he was able to kill many "enemies." I think of fathers who train their children in the use of explosives, parents who dress their children in weaponry and ammunition, parents who teach their children that killing is good, that being a martyr will get you free sex in the afterlife. I can't imagine raising my child to die. I don't know what it's like to have a policeman knock on your door in the middle of the night to say your son has been arrested for manslaughter. I don't know what it's like to have your daughter call you from a payphone in the city, asking you for help in getting away from her pimp. I don't want to know. I just know that I look at baby pictures of my children and the journals I kept for them when they were infants. I see all the hope I had for them and I worry that this world has killed the hope, has killed the chances my kids have for a future free from bombs or poverty or terror. I worry that every word I whispered to them when they were little and slept in my arms, all that talk of the world being theirs, the life that stretched before them being filled with promise and hope, I worry that I said those things in folly. All the things that happen between infancy and young adulthood, all the things that create your path and direction and lead to your future, they are not at all controllable. I can only do my part to give my children the values and morals they need to become decent adults. But I have no control over the outside world. I have no control over the influences of people they meet outside my home, the affect the events of the chaotic world around them have on their psyche. I just know I feel for every mother or father who has had to watch their child become something less than human. I feel for the parents who did all they could but lost their children to evil in the end. In the end, the ultimate responsibility for a person's behavior lies with themselves. But you can bet that the parent of every serial killer, evey mass murderer, every shoplifter or hooker or societal drop-out has said to themselves at one point Where did I go wrong? How did my child go from that laughing infant to the man I see on tv in handcuffs? That is, every parent save for the ones who bring their children up to hate and fight and kill. And to that I ask, where did the world go wrong in making it a place where parents like that exist? Teach your children well. It's the only thing you can do to help make your future and their future one that doesn't involve hatred and gunfire.


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Too heartbreakingly true. What can a parent, or prospective parent do? Just do your best and pray it works out. I think you see a lot of parents of these horrible people beaten into resignation, they've known that their kid has real problems and they haven't been able to do anything to correct it.

You've just got to grit your teeth and get on with doing what you can to get them to turn out right. And don't crucify yourself if it doesn't work out. Easier said than done though. I think that parents of horrible kids become a little bit immune to the sentiment you express above, because they have forgotten what the sweet baby was like from having to deal with the adult monster.

Having said that, that's no excuse for people to opt out of raising the next generation.

I promised myself I would take a break from blogs, and not responsd. I'm getting to angry, to irrational, and to frustrated.

But for this I'm making an exception. A very well written piece Michelle, you have such a talent for putting into words what so many feel.

It makes me think of my parents, and that I was once a child.

I often wonder how I became the monster I am now. I don't act out physically, but I look in the mirror and I see a man (or child perhaps) filled with anger and hate.

The path we choose is our own. I don't know how much a parent would be to blame, because we all realize at some point in our childhood that there IS a right and wrong.

You mean I shouldn't go out and join the Voluntery Human Extinction Movement[vhemt.org]? Darn. ;)

I’m glad that you have this blog. The despair you’re feeling, like a heavy burden, will be less painful when you share the weight of it with friends. Although I’m by no means a psychologist, you seem to be suffering the same weariness that soldiers, police officers, and firemen do when they’ve seen too much. If you're a sympathetic person, I believe that it takes a piece of your soul every time you see an innocent person fall victim to seemingly senseless violence. I also believe that we don’t give enough praise to the soldiers and police officers who protect our society, for they sacrifice an even larger part of their soul when they have no choice but to defend the innocent by pulling a trigger on the bad guys. And as for the rapists, murderers, terrorists, and thugs of all descriptions; I have no sympathy for them at all. They deliberately chose to do what they do, and forced the guardians of society to hunt them down. “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes” - translation - Who shall guard the guardians?

Very true. That's a tragedy that's usually ignored. The parents of a criminal.

But terrorists aren't criminals, and most of the ones we're worring about most these days are one's whoes parents, teachers, imams, and even sometimes their governments probably approve of terrorism.

That's a bigger tragedy waiting to happen.... I feel a lot of death coming our way.

There's a continuum out there, and the scum are just the far end of what we all do: The search for honor and avoidance of shame...

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