Blog Your Blessings: I Lied to a Child, but Batman Said it was OK
Yesterday our sixth-grade students watched a National Geographic documentary about 9/11. They heard survivors' accounts of what it was like to be in the Twin Towers, what the widows of the men on Flight 93 heard as their husbands took over their hijacked plane, what it was like to be lifted out of the wreckage of the Pentagon. They heard a fire fighter talk about hearing the bodies of men and women hit the ground one after the other--the thud, the silence, the thud, the silence--after they had lept from the inferno. They heard the chirping of the location devices of so many fire fighters stuck under the rubble after the towers collapsed. Like crickets crying under the weight and shadow of a strange nuclear winter.
These boys and girls were babies on that horrible day. They could only imagine.
Back in the classroom, my students debriefed themselves by offering their thoughts on what they saw. Batman said, "Miss, I really, really hate Osama bin Laden."
Batman is Muslim; I sensed he was pushing the Bad Guy away from himself by making the comment. I could relate. "Same way I hate that Rev. What's-His-Name Jones in Florida who wanted to burn your holy book for a little attention on 9/11 this year."
"Can he do that? No? Right, Miss?" Batman asked.
"It's indecent, but it's legal," I said. "It's free speech, and it's protected by the Constitution."
"That's wrong, Miss." Batman couldn't take it in.
Ah, my moment in front of the mirror had come.
"Isn't it ridiculous that a man with a church that has 50 members could get so much attention, though?" I asked. "Our President and General Petraeus--our military chief in Afghanistan--stopped what they were doing just to ask this guy to stop making a scene so that he couldn't cause more trouble for good and innocent people."
We talked about this for a while: How it is one or two crackpots with big mouths can cause so much trouble and destroy or upset so many lives.
"That guy in Florida is why I lied to a student on Friday," I said.
"You? Lied?" Batman asked.
Yes, I did, I told Batman. Because I hate that guy in Florida the way you hate bin Laden. Just the way bin Laden makes it hard to be a Muslim without people thinking you're going to blow up the world, that guy in Florida paints Christians with a broad brush like we hate everybody who isn't one of us.
"This student and I were walking to the bus," I said. "She's a Muslim. She asked if I were Christian. I didn't have time to tell her, 'Yes, but not like that lunatic who wants to get in your sweet face,' so I said no. I had to lie because I couldn't risk offending her. That was wrong of me, right?"
"Yeah, but that's OK. You meant well," Batman said. He was getting it--we were all getting it: there are crazies on either side, and they keep us humble because they insist on being so small. But we have to move on. We have to live.
"Is it true," asked another boy (whose brother was a few blocks away from the Twin Towers on that horrible day), "What they said about how Americans love life?"
God, I hope so. And child, because you ask the question, I believe so.