I’ve been writing since I retired. For many years before that, I taught English, Literature and History. I love words—their power, beauty and endurance. I thought I had the ability to use them well. Until today, when I find myself rambling, stumbling, practically incoherent. I cannot begin to find words that are adequate to describe what I am feeling. The pain, anger, desperation and futility. The hope, optimism, love and pride.
I do not have any children. But today, watching and listening to young people all over the world and especially in the United States, I feel as if all these children are mine. I want to protect them and make their fears go away. I want to reassure them that everything will turn out alright. Of course, I cannot. Words fail. I fail.
I was reminded of the power of words yesterday, while watching and listening to a well-known syndicated political columnist and frequent TV pundit. He was part of a panel discussing the upcoming March for Our Lives.
“These are children,” he said, not bothering to disguise the sneer on his face and disgust in his voice. “They cannot vote. They do not determine policy. They cannot legislate. They belong in school. If they walk out or demonstrate they should be suspended. This country is not and cannot be ruled by children.”
For a moment I stopped breathing. Then the urge to throw something at the television screen was almost unbearable. Not because I wanted to smash the screen but because I wanted the object to go through it directly into the man’s body! I wanted to make him stop what he was saying. Those terrible words… derisive, denigrating, insulting, designed to hurt and make a mockery of initiative and an almost innocent belief in the power of words and the power of democracy.
He is an old man and has been witness to many political movements. I am an old woman, and the same can be said for me. And in that instant, I recognized why these young people are so often angry at the old. Why they insist that we must step aside and make room for the young. Why they often see us as useless, and worse, in their way.
I want to scream, “That’s not me! I believe in you! I want you to dream big! I want you to succeed! I want you to change the world! I don’t want you to stop! Don’t push me aside. Let me share what I have learned. Let me help. I want to march with you today and going forward.”
Reports indicate that the March for Our Lives is the largest gathering of people in Washington since the days of the Vietnam protests. I am so proud of these young people. Their speeches bring tears to my eyes and make my heart beat faster. They understand the power of words. And they combine that with the power of technology, something I did not have when I was their age. They have passion and commitment, fueled by experience no children should ever have. They are brave. They believe in themselves and in each other. And it is this that gives me hope.
It is, I think, a curious but also significant coincidence that this March should occur so close to our observance of Passover. All those thousands of years ago, Moses, an old man, was chosen to lead us to the Promised Land. He endured hardship and the frustration that came from the people refusing over and over again to believe him and trust in his judgment. For 40 years he led us, as one by one the older people died. And Moses himself, that magnificent leader, was denied at the end the opportunity to reach the destination. Was it necessary? Did the old have to give way to the young to establish a new order?
I believe in our children. I know they can lead the way. But we also need a Moses. Who will be that person? What adult will step forward and take on the burden of dealing with reluctant colleagues, outdated ideas and the desire to hold on to the status quo, power and money at all costs?
I want desperately to believe that someone will soon assume that role. And that others will follow. I don’t want to see years go by without change. I don’t want to see children still practicing active shooter drills. I don’t want any more of them traumatized, wounded or dead. I don’t want them marching for their lives as adults. I want the power of their words to lead us to the land we promised them…a safe place to live, learn, raise families and grow old.
I want…I want…I want.
I hope…I despair…I pray.
Carole Leskin is a retired Director of Global Human Resources. Embarking on a second career as a writer and photographer concentrating on her personal accounts of aging, her essays and poetry, frequently accompanied by her photos, are published in Jewish Sacred Aging, Jewish Women of Words, Starts At 60, Navigating Aging ( a Kaiser Health publication), Women’s Older Wisdom, Time Goes By and Next Avenue. Her poems, “Father Time” and “Carole’s Debate” were selected for inclusion in the 2019 anthologies of poetry, New Jersey Bards. Her photos have been featured in Mart R Porter Nature Forum.