I met a little girl yesterday. She was with her mother. Adorable child. Probably 6 or 7. Big purple bow in her hair. Pink Pebbles jacket. She clung to her mother when I bent down to say hello, as most shy little girls do.
Except this little girl wasn’t just shy. She was traumatized. She is one of the growing number of children in our city who witness violence up close and personal. For her, it had been a home invasion. She had been at that place where little kids feel safest, her home, when gunmen burst in. And started firing. At her family members.
Pause here for a minute, if you will. And imagine. Imagine your own child (or your favorite niece or nephew or the kid down the street). Imagine that child being home when gunmen burst in and start firing. Imagine that image shattering your innocence. At 6.
It stays with you, doesn’t it?
I know it did me. Which is why, late yesterday afternoon, I called NolaVie’s editor, Renee Peck, to talk about what I had seen. Renee wrote a wonderful article on Monday about TTMOC (journalist-speak for “the true meaning of Christmas”) that centered around the kids served by the Raintree Children and Family Services agency.
I asked Renee if it was too much to tell a similar story here in today’s LoveNOLA.
“I don’t think you can tell that story enough,” she replied.
She’s right. You can’t tell that story enough. Because, you see, while the holidays are full of heart-tugging stories about kids in need, the fact is, that for that little girl I met yesterday, her story isn’t a Christmas story.
It’s her life story.
And, unless she has access to on-going services that address her wounds (difficult in this era of cuts), that trauma won’t end on December 26. It will go on. And on. And on.
She will pass that trauma onto her kids. She will act that trauma out on the streets. Trauma will beget more trauma. Violence will beget more violence.
We simply can’t let that happen. We simply must, all of us, find ways to help that little girl — and the countless children like her — heal. Otherwise, this country won’t be facing just a fiscal cliff. It will be facing a moral one, as well.
There are a lot of ways to do that.
There are political steps to take, but, Mayan Apocalypse or not, neither you nor I have enough years left to wait while so-called political leaders find their leadership, their backbones. Or their compassion.
So, while we wait for that Christmas miracle, what can the rest of us do?
I asked my friend (and, full disclosure, client) retired judge Calvin Johnson that question. Judge Johnson currently leads Metropolitan Human Services District, the local agency charged with providing and coordinating publicly-funded services for children and adults with mental health issues, including trauma. Far from a bureaucrat, he is a leader who gets it. And cares.
Here’s what he had to say on the topic of what each of us can do:
“First, if you know a child — or an adult — who has been traumatized or is having some other mental health crisis, call 504-826-2675. That will put you in touch with a round-the-clock crisis team that can provide immediate help.
“Second, be aware. Know the kids in your neighborhood. Talk to them. Know their names. If you know their grandma’s been sick or their mom is working late, bring dinner. If you know something bad has happened in their lives, stop and talk with them. Be a part of their lives.
“Third, be a role model. If I see a kid doing something he shouldn’t be doing, I say something. Even if it’s at a bus stop. And that kid will listen. I don’t yell at them, I just calmly say, ‘You shouldn’t act that way.’ Now, my own children tell me those kids listen because I’m a judge. Please. Ten- or 15-year-old kids don’t know who Judge Calvin Johnson is. No, those kids listen because kids need structure. They crave it. Give it to them in a constructive, respectful way and they will respond. The fact is they are our kids, too.”
Now, I imagine some of you will read this and say, “Yeah, right. It’s not that simple for some of these kids.”
But, you know what? What if it was that simple for some of them?
For one of them?
What if? Now, that would be the true meaning of Christmas. And compassion.
Brett Will Taylor is a southern Shaman who writes Love: NOLA weekly for NolaVie. Visit his site at ashamansjourney.net.