It's not a 'special right' to be cherished, valued as a human being

Storm Reyes; Guest columnist

The other night on the TV news there was a story about a young girl who committed suicide because she couldn't stand being bullied anymore. The next morning I opened my newspaper and read the obituary of a boy who was killed by another young boy.

Instead of just shaking my head and turning the page, I wept. I wept for the loss and the sudden realization that it's becoming just another news story. When the Columbine school shootings happened, the national outrage was tremendous. And then there was another school shooting, and then another. Now we seem to be handling the problem by increased security methods in schools, intensive training for our SWAT teams and anti-bullying legislation.

But all these efforts are Band-Aids to cover the real sickness; as a nation, we haven't even begun to address this epidemic. Why do our children kill themselves and each other?

I'm just a simple woman with no special training in psychology or children's issue. In Indian Country we have long faced the epidemic of suicide among our youth and banded together to address it. I know there are no easy answers, and the complexities are tied around many social, economic and family issues.

But in my uneducated mind, I see a common thread. We, the adults, have taught our children to revile the differences. We have taught our children that in order to build ourselves up, we must tear down someone else. And as every parent knows, our children learn from our examples, not from our words.

One of the phenomena of this world is that every single thing in it is absolutely unique. Only man has learned the art of mass production. Every blade of grass is a bit different from its neighbor, every blossom, every feather on every bird and even every raindrop.

It is this richness of diversity in the natural world that gives us the beauty and flavor of life. Every day is an opportunity to see something, hear something, smell something, taste something never experienced before. We wallow in these differences, constantly on the lookout for the new, enhanced, re-designed, improved versions. So why, if we value differences so much in our everyday life, can't we seem to value the differences of our fellow human beings? Why do we reject the uniqueness of those individuals who look a bit different, learn a bit differently, love a bit differently?

And the hardest question of all: What can I as a single human being do to stop this sickness from stealing our children?

I can support our educators and experts who struggle to find solutions. I can support the volunteers and agencies that daily fight for our children's future. I can support families and parents whose lives have been forever altered by this shadow that has crept into their homes. I can lead by example and not just words, and so can you.

The city of Tacoma has an opportunity before it right now to stop punishing its citizens for their differences in sexual orientation. It has an opportunity to choose to protect all of its citizens and bring unity to this community rather than division.

I've heard the term "special rights" bandied about in the conversations about this issue. Is it a special right not to be abused or beaten? Is it a special right not to be denied a place a live? Is it a special right to be ensured an opportunity for a job that one is qualified to do? If those basic decencies are special rights, then the larger question is: What kind of society are we living in?

With the death of each child, I wonder what special gifts and talents were lost to this community, this world. I mourn for the artists, poets, statesmen, inventors, doctors, researchers and business people whose promise will never be realized and I feel robbed of what could have been. I watch my gay and lesbian neighbors afraid to reach out for their dreams for the fear that the one aspect of their 'difference' will condemn them, and I feel robbed of what could have been. I live in a wonderfully diverse community on Tacoma's East Side. I'm eagerly waiting warmer weather when, like me, my neighbors step outside to begin working on yards and making repairs. I'll hear the music of the sounds of many different languages. In the air, there will be intriguing smells of foods unknown at my house.

The children will share a common language of play, while we adults take care of the same household tasks. The differences among us will not divide us, because we are bound by the commonalities of being neighbors. I'll make my rounds begging for a taste of the things that smell so good and make my neighbors laugh at my greeting when I mangle their languages. And I won't hesitate to ask for help in moving some dirt or advice on how to trim a rose bush or build a fence. I'm a spiritual person, but today I do not take comfort that the spirits of two young lives now reside in a place where they will be cherished and valued. We adults should have made such a place here for our children. I hope that Tacoma will embrace this opportunity to begin building such a place where we cherish and value all of our neighbors, and so teach our children by this example.

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