When Did We Just Give Up?
Starting today I will abandon my tag line: What is wrong with the media? Maybe it’s just wishful observation on my part, but it seems to me that since the election of Barack Obama, the media has started covering different kinds of stories. So, for now, I will give them the benefit of the doubt and try to take from those stories ideas for my own daily posts.
This Sunday morning, as I drank my coffee and prepared breakfast, there were three stories that got my attention. On their faces they seemed unconnected. One was local, one, while being covered by a local station, was from Arizona, and a third was covered later on CNN. The first two got me to thinking about something I have noticed for quite some time, now, and it is those thoughts that brought the stories together in my mind.
The first was a teaser story directing viewers to a more in-depth presentation at 10:00 p.m. You know, the kind of thing that all local stations do to get you to come back to their later broadcasts. I hate this kind of bait-and-switch journalism, but I doubt my disdain for it will bring about a change. But, I mean, don’t you hate it when your local news station warns of some impending danger to the health or safety of you or your children and then directs you to tune in later in the day to find out about it? After all, these are the same people who don’t think twice before interrupting their entertainment programming with “breaking news” in order to show you a fire in some other city. But I digress. Sorry, it’s part of advancing age!
Anyway, this teaser spot promised a story about an 84-year-old man who couldn’t even walk that was dropped off by a local hospital at a homeless shelter because they wanted to get rid of him. The reporter said that this was a growing problem here in the nation’s fourth largest city – one that prides itself on being the nation’s foremost medical center. It seems that local homeless shelters are seeing an increasing number of elderly patients being dumped on their doorsteps by hospitals in our area. This is not only sad at the basest level, but it is also shocking in a nation that claims to be the richest in the world.
The other story was out of Arizona. It appears that an eight-year-old boy shot and killed his father and another man. The local district attorney reports that the child confessed his crime and admitted to having planned it, thus making it pre-meditated murder. The local DA also announced that he planned to try the eight year old as an adult. This is the youngest child I remember being charged with a crime as an adult. Maybe there are others, but I don’t remember any. I seem to have a memory of a ten year old in a previous case. As one who sat in courtrooms for 14 years of my life, I cannot help but be alarmed by this recent trend to hold children to the same standard of behavior as adults. We don’t seem to think they are old enough to make a simple decision like who to vote for, or drink an alcoholic beverage, yet we charge them with a responsibility to be adult in other behaviors that we find to be unacceptable. And do not get me wrong, there is nothing in my mind that makes murder under any circumstances acceptable.
That being said, the two stories, when taken together wove a different tapestry. Tapestry may be too beautiful a word for it, but it comes to mind. What both of these sad stories reflect is the fact that we, as a society, have thrown up our hands and retreated from any responsibility towards the young and old among us. There was a time when an 84-year-old man who couldn’t take care of himself would be taken in by members of his family. Sadly, those days are gone. And this is not an indictment of families; it is a realistic look at where our society has taken itself. The truth is that many 84 year olds don’t have a family to take them in, and if they do have family, that family may not be equipped to do so. In today’s world of single-earner households and other households that require two wage earners to survive, there is no family member available to give round-the-clock care to an aging relative who has no way to provide for themselves. And with economic hard times predicted ahead, that problem will probably only become worse.
Just as sad is the way we have come to treat our children. There was a time within my memory when a child who committed a crime – admittedly not murder – was marched by merchants or law enforcement officers to their parents’ door, and the parents would handle the task of appropriate punishment and “education” to help the misbehaving child see the error of their ways. In case these measures proved to bear no fruits of success, we had, and still have, a juvenile court system and correctional system to address the issues of those children who resist the change necessary to become productive members of society. Today, however, with so many single-parent households and two-working-parent households, there is often no one at home during the daytime hours when children are out of school to watch over them, and our juvenile justice system seems overwhelmed by the burden placed upon it.
The answer put forward by conservative thinkers has been to stop wasting taxpayer money on the young and old alike. They have declared all programs designed to stop these problems before they start too expensive and ineffective. In their rush to scale down the size of government, they have opted to leave old men on the sidewalks of our large cities and incarcerate children who, for whatever reason, have strayed off the straight and narrow for terms of up to life in prison. In other words, they have given up on these children, declaring them to be unworthy of the attention that may turn them around. As a former court reporter who watched children in numerous juvenile cases get another chance to clean up their acts, and as a former teacher who worked with teenagers on a daily basis, I am sad to see this retreat and surrender. Sarah Palin often preached about a flag of surrender being waved in Iraq. I note that she seems to have never waved the flag of surrender where her own children are concerned. I contend that all children are my children and no flag of surrender should ever be waved. The same goes for our elderly. No matter what we may want to believe, we were once part of the one group and are headed to the other.
That brings me to the last story I saw this morning. It is a story of hope steeped in a heartbreaking reality. It is the story of 11-year-old Brenden Foster. Brenden suffers from leukemia and is not expected to see his 12th birthday. But even in his suffering he has a last thing to teach us all. One day as his mother took him by a public park, Brenden observed a tent city of homeless people. He asked his mother about them, and she explained their plight. Of course, one wouldn’t expect that an 11 year old could do much about such a situation, but Brenden put what he had to good use. He managed to get the attention of local citizens and make a last wish for himself. His last wish? That someone would help feed the homeless people in that park by giving them sandwiches. And not all peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, in case some of them were allergic.
An outpouring came from the community. Not a simple donation of money to buy food came forth, but a brigade of citizens showed up with sandwich makings and began feeding the residents of the tent city. Through the eyes of a child who thought of others instead of himself, those people were treated to the great experience of actually DOING something to help those less fortunate than themselves.
I, too, have a wish. I wish that everybody who sees my posting today will pass it along to their friends and families, and perhaps, just perhaps, we can stop throwing our hands up in the face of the problems that confront us and start DOING something about them. We have taken a good first step by electing a man to lead us who seems to understand these things. Let us do what we can to help President-elect Obama fulfill his vision of a nation of helpers.
KEEP FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT!