Thursday, July 12, 2007

Diminishment of Life

There was a time, earlier in my days, when I had a fairly casual attitude toward life. I was younger, more carefree, less acquainted with the tragedies of life than I now am. So I don't blame those whose views are different from mine. I have come to understand that all humans are on a path of continual discovery, and we don't all discover the same things, nor do we discover it at the same time.

But I recoil inwardly when I witness the diminishment of life.

When I hear a group of "ordinary" kids taunt a behaviorally or emotionally disordered child, as I witnessed from a distance last week at church camp, of all places ("Hey, [name], why don't you just climb up on that swing, fall off and die"), life for all of us becomes somehow less sacred.

When I read that abortion rates in Minnesota rose by 16% in 2006, I am troubled. (And I am not what you would call a classic, "right to lifer," for I support safe and legal abortions in certain circumstances).

When there have been (as of July 11, 2007) 3,894 coalition troops killed in Iraq (and countless Iraqi civilians) I inwardly weep at the cost to their families, friend, communities and our society in general.

When I have had opportunity to read the case files of the children who became ours through adoption my emotions wavered between pity, compassion and anger, as I read of generational neglect, abuse and criminality. Early years in such emotionally hostile territory is bound to have significant effects in a person's later years. It simply is not a level playing field for all children.

When I read the accounts of last night's execution in South Dakota (the first in that state in 60 years) I am torn. While I do not claim to have all the details in the case, I do understand that he was responsible for a grisly, torturous murder. Such antisocial and antihuman behavior can never be condoned, but I sense a diminishment of the sacredness of all life when governmental authority acts in a similarly murderous fashion. Perhaps execution is justified in a legal, and maybe even an ethical sense, but I question how moral it really is. If, in fact, the accused in this case preferred death to a lifetime in prison (which I understand was his claim), does this not mean that a more "fitting" punishment is, in fact, lifetime incarceration, with a daily opportunity to be "punished" (if that is the goal) for his misdeeds? Does not state "murder" only "relieve" the accused? I have yet to be convinced that such execution either comforts the family who lost a loved one or sates the sense of outrage most of feel when someone has committed an atrocious act against another human. Murder is perhaps the most egregious diminishment of human life, so I wonder how state-enacted execution does little more than further cheapen human life.

What provokes me the most, I suspect, is that I can too easily see any one of my ten children involved in any of the scenarios above. My children are subjected on a regular basis to diminishment because of their behavioral or emotional deficits. Last night I was asking Dominyk if he liked himself. "Pretty much, most of the time," was his response. I followed up by asking, "Do you think other people like you, too?" "Yeah, I guess so. At least they don't bother me as much here as they did in my last school." While I am happy to hear his report, reality tells me that he will have many challenging days ahead because he isn't like everyone else in this world. I only pray that his generous, sensitive heart is not permanently damaged in the years ahead by the brash, obnoxious ways of his peers and the culture we all inhabit.

And, of course, I am humbled to think that any one of my ten children would have been a perfect candidate for his or her mother's "right to choose." In fact, due to the poverty, drug and alocohol abuse, and other environmental factors existing in their birth homes, my children's birth mothers would certainly have been offered that option had they sought "professional counseling." But, thanks be to God, they did not make that choice, and these children whose lives I now inhabit have the opportunity to move beyond their origins.

Any of my children, especially my eight boys, would be excellent candidates for the military. They are bright enough (but not too smart), they are physically fit (in most cases), and they are used to at least some structure in their lives. Most, but not all of them, would be the kind of soldiers eagerly recruited for service to their country. And any one of them could be returned home to us in a body bag.

And, based upon their early childhood traumas, any of my children could act in socially inappropriate and even highly illegal ways. The young man executed last night in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, was himself an abused child who spent time in foster care, and then was returned to an abusive home setting. Hear me clearly: early childhood abuse or neglect does not justify murderous behavior. But hear me equally as clearly: children who languish in foster care, or children who are returned to abusive or neglectful home situations by the same state bureaucracy who may one day execute them are doomed from the beginning!

Is the irony lost on governmental leaders that the bureaucratic nightmare we call social services holds some culpability for what may become the antisocial lives of people like the 25-year-old executed last night?

Diminishment of life in any form grieves me, but it cannot overwhelm me, for then I can offer no alternatives. As frustrating and challenging as it is to parent children with special needs, I will continue to invest my time and energy on the front end, to do all I can do with God's help to give them at least a chance and a choice.

And that's a lot more than they would have had otherwise.

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