Teri Orr: It’s always about the children…
A little over a week ago, a number of us in the TED community reposted a highlight clip from Malala Yousafzai’s acceptance speech for her Noble Peace Prize. The young girl from Pakistan, shot at age 13 by the Taliban, has become an international voice for girls, but really for all children, to be educated. This March, her father spoke at the TED conference and he said "People ask me what is special about my mentorship that has made Malala so bold and courageous, vocal and poised. I tell them, ‘Don’t ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings…."
This year is that "other" year in the every-other-year I have my whole little family together. My son and his wife and their daughter and son travel to Colorado to be with The Other Grandparents. So I had one day, Sunday, to have all three Grands together for a bit of holiday cheer. At ages 13, 11, and 10, it is increasing difficult to find activities and conversations where we all participate — the girl and two boys. And this middle school and not-quite stage, past the Santa years, but not yet in the full-on cynic years, are for most folks, a time they avoid. Me, I love this age.
I grabbed all three last Sunday and did the first thing we could all agree on… eating. We found a fancy spot for lunch in Park City where we dipped soft pretzels in cheese fondue and they started talking… about everything. Classes at school and lunchtime bullies and the electronics they wanted for Christmas. Then we drove to the St. Regis and rode the funicular (honestly, it is free and fun with an amazing view and every kid loves this four minute ride). We walked outside, up top, to view the foundation of what is becoming an ice castle there, where guests can ski in and grab a frozen concoction. It is a growing structure made entirely of ice and lights.
Then we drove to the place where I have purchased my trees (and pansies and rosemary and really everything year-round) for years — Park City Nursery. I was feeling bad I hadn’t put up the tree yet before they came for the day. But they didn’t care — they thought it was great fun to help me, find a tree. We spent a very long time talking about the trees that had room for presents underneath and a good top to stick the angel on. When they settled on a rather small one, the tree man said they should carry it down to the chainsaw station where the bottom would be cut to keep it fresh. And the Musketeers did. I have a great photo of the giggly moment.
We tied the tree to the top of the car and hurried home and took it down. I couldn’t find the tree stand quickly so I grabbed my big soup pot and stuck the tree in that and poured warm water in and propped it up against the window before we left to meet the parents. At a coffee shop, we had hot chocolate and they giggled and told their parents, in animated voices, all the crazy things we had done. The parents asked me just how much sugar had been consumed in the afternoon. I smiled and just reminded them these were the holidays.
Twenty four hours later I couldn’t sleep and at 4 in the morning I turned on the BBC radio to learn there had been a shooting of school children in Pakistan and as many as 80 children were thought to be dead. I was fully awake suddenly and sickened and sad. As the day progressed and the number rose to 100 and finally to 144 children and teachers killed, I was flattened. It was two years ago, this very week, 26 children and teachers were killed in a school in Newtown, Connecticut. And my friend, who lives just three miles from that school and is an active member of his Catholic parish, helped bury 11 of those victims with service after service, after service, of such sadness he has not since recovered.
Nor should he.
The senseless death of a child in a place that should be as safe as their home is increasing around the world in horrifying numbers. Later this same week we learned the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped girls in Africa, again, from inside their school.
After my TED friend in Pakistan posted "the smallest coffins are the heaviest," I reached out to another friend from the region and asked what humanitarian need would be best. He explained these were all middle class families. They didn’t need anything… except their children.
The news outlets were showing tiny coffins covered in blankets of roses and I found myself crying in that noisy way that ends up gasping.
There is a war that was declared without us hearing the call. It is against educating children. Young humans who can and will learn how to be brave and strong and kind and reasoned because education does that. We should, as Malala implored us, just a week ago, agree that this is the last generation where every child isn’t educated. "Let this be the last time that we see a child deprived of education." she declared. It ends with us. Educated children become citizens of the world now because the world is just that connected and small. And we owe it to each other, all the parents and all the children, to protect their universal right to a quality education.
My tree is still in the soup pot in the living room. By Christmas Eve I will have it decorated for the 11-year-old who will be here with his parents for the holiday. He is one child but he is all children this year and I will try not hug him too tight and smother him with treats and gifts and I will remind him of Malala (we have talked about her bravery in the past two years) because we all need heroes.
The holidays are always about the children. All the children. All the world over. On all the holy days. Every day. Even this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.