There is never time to say our last word
-- the last word of our love or remorse.
It is one thing to read (or write) about bringing up children, and quite another to actually do it. Words are easy to come by; so are anecdotes and suggestions. Yet without deeds, the soundest educational theory is useless, as is the most trustworthy parental instinct. When all is said and done, we must put away our books and go out to find the children who need our love.
In our country alone there are thousands, possibly millions, of children who have never felt the tenderness that every child deserves; who go to bed hungry and lonely and cold; who, though housed by the parents who conceived them, know little of the love of true parenthood. Add to that the numberless children for whom such love can never become a reality, even if desired, because the cruel cycle of poverty and crime has landed father or mother or both behind bars. Still, we cannot despair.
If only a fraction of us who have resources were willing to commit our energy and time to helping one endangered child, even our own child, many might be saved. And even if our kindness takes the shape of the smallest, most negligible act, it will, like every deed of love, never be wasted. Invisible as it might be on its own, it will still carry meaning; together with others it may have power to change the world.
Such promises might ring hollow, but that is not because they are empty. It is because we have forgotten that the tie that binds one generation to the next means far more than the sharing of blood. As humanity's oldest and strongest bond, the love between a parent and a child is a gift for the future -- an inheritance for posterity.
Unfortunately, the wreckage that so often passes for family life these days leads some people to be fatalistic about the way things are. But why should these pessimists have the last word? Dorothy Day writes:
The sense of futility is one of the greatest evils of the day ... People say, "What can one person do? What is the sense of our small effort?" They cannot see that we can only lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time; we can be responsible only for the one action of the present moment.
This wisdom -- the importance of living in the present -- is another of the many lessons children could teach us, if we were willing to lay aside our adult "solutions" long enough to hear theirs. As Assata Shakur recently admonished a crowd of activists bent on changing the world:
We need to include children, to make space for them, to let them be part of the social transformation ...Children are the most important source of optimism on this planet. But we've tended not to listen to them, not to pay attention to the wisdom that comes out of their mouths.
It is often said that children "are our future" or that we must educate them "for the future." While the sentiment is understandable, it is also a limiting one. There is nothing like the joy of anticipation: of watching one's children grow, marking the development of their personalities, and wondering and waiting to see what they will become. But as long as we have children entrusted to our care, we cannot forget that the demands they make on us must be answered in the present.
There is always a tomorrow, but how can we be sure it will be ours? There are always new chances, but how many will we let become missed opportunities and regrets? For the sake of a child, are we ready to drop everything -- not begrudgingly, but with joy? If we cannot answer these questions, perhaps we have not learned the most important lesson of all: that whatever a child needs in the way of guidance, security, and love, he needs now.
Many things can wait. Children cannot.
Today their bones are being formed, their blood
is being made, their senses are being developed.
To them we cannot say "tomorrow."
Their name is today.