It’s easy to want to take care of kids.
One of the first things we learn is that bigger kids watch out for littler kids. In doing this, we start to take on a bit of the role of parent, full grown humans who have the obligation to tend to children, making sure that they are safe and cared for, teaching them what they need to grow and be successful.
Children are seen as innocents, untainted by blemish. They are sweet and pure, only victims in a challenging world.
Where, though, do humans become fully responsible for their own life? When do we lose our innocence?
Every human makes choices about what they do in the world, but those choices, for the vast majority of us anyway, control the smallest part of what happens to us over our lifetime.
We are at the mercy of the circumstances of our lives, from where we are born, the parents we are born to, the country we grow up in, the educational opportunities that we are offered, and on and on and on.
It’s good to demand responsibility from others before we give them compassion. People need to try, to work hard, to sweat in order to earn our respect. If they aren’t fighting for themselves to be better, then why should we help them?
It’s bad, though, to assign responsibility to them beyond that which they have any control over. They didn’t create systemic oppression, didn’t choose their childhood, didn’t create their own essence.
This idea, I know, is galling to fundamentalists who believe in the “law of attraction,” the notion that we have responsibility for every thing that comes into our life. Cancer? Our fault. Abusive parents? Our fault. Colour blindness? Our fault.
Like every other fundamentalist, they want to believe in their power to transcend luck, to beat the odds with the help of their arcane system, and the way they support their beliefs is to say that they are right with the universe and the only reason others got creamed is because they were not. All they have to do is be right, somehow, and the insults, indignities and pains of the world will escape them.
The voodoo of locating the problems of other people in their own sins, deciding that anyone who shows what scares us as sickness must by definition be a sinner, be that a non-church-believer, enrobed in negativity, politically incorrect or an illegal immigrant, well, that’s the voodoo that those fundamentalists do do.
Humans are complex, powerful and frail creatures who struggle to make the best of the hand that they are dealt. Nobody has control of what comes to them no matter how much they wrap themselves in fundamentalist belief of any kind.
It is only when we can accept and embrace our own vulnerability, unarmoured by any voodoo fundamentalist belief that we can accept and embrace the vulnerability of others who seem older, more powerful and more scarred than we are.
Accepting the vulnerability of children is easy. We know the limits of their agency, can accept those limits.
Accepting the vulnerability of adults, though, is much tougher. It means accepting our own vulnerability.
Disabled people not that often, the first thing others want to know from them is how they became disabled. If they are told it came from birth they tend to relax, because the big question in their mind, the one they can’t even put into words for themselves is: “Can I catch this thing from you? Will you pollute me?”
Seeing human frailty mirrored brings up our own terrors. Often, the first attribute we assign to those who are facing challenges is that they are “courageous.” All that means is that they are fighting with something that scares the shit out of us, something we are terrified to even think about engaging.
It’s sweet to want to be there for challenged kids. There is clearly nothing wrong with that.
Wanting to be there for challenged adults, though, being open, compassionate and supportive to them is also important.
As someone who helped my parents throughout their lives, including the decade before they died, I know how hard it is to be there and support a story where the ending is clear and obvious.
If you believe, though, that the ending is also terrifying and disgusting and corrupt, though, you will run from that story, keeping yourself apart.
There is no way to make the story better, being their to make one more good day, if you fear the ending, fear how it reflects on your own life. If you want to keep believing that you are invulnerable then you need to keep believing that people who you have seen as more powerful than you are are also invulnerable, or you have to erase them out of your story, writing them off as sinners.
The best thing about getting older is that you continue to be all the ages you ever were, wrote Madeleine L’Engle, and all the genders too, added Kate Bornstein. The hurting kid is always in there, even if others see you as someone who should take responsibility and not as someone to whom they should offer compassion, acknowledging your — and their — vulnerability.
Believing that only the abject are vulnerable is an arrogant, fundamentalist defence against having to face our own human vulnerability, against having to be present with a real open heart and open mind. Once we feel the need to assign others as broken before we can care for them, we miss the power, the strength and the beauty of their very human, very powerful lives.
This is a finite world. Every choice we make for something is also a choice against something. In that kind of world, no one can be totally innocent. There is always a price to be paid.
Wrapping ourselves in fundamentalism doesn’t change that. It doesn’t make us more perfect and innocent, more blessed, more protected. It only lets us identify others who are struggling as sinners, broken and sick because they didn’t make the perfected choices we claim for ourselves.
Chance is at the centre of every human story. There, but for the grace of God, go I.
I know how to engage the narratives of others, opening to their stories and the threads that connect us all. To do that, I have to face fear, open to them, be vulnerable.
Often, though, I wish that they could do the same for me, even though they can not see me as a cute,innocent kid.
To see that beautiful spirit in every human, though, would demand that they engage the costs and frailties that being human entails.
I’m a chick. I melt when I see people take care of each other. And I do that because I know, as fragile, mostly hairless animals, how much we need the love of others.