I staffed the SHU (Solitary Housing Unit) exhibit on Saturday evening. The Old Chatham Quakers displayed a replica of a SHU at the Columbia County Fair to raise awareness among voters to institute a law that governs how people are held in solitary confinement (HALT Legislation - Humane Alternatives to Long Term incarceration).
What I did not expect was that an eleven-year-old girl would move me to tears.
As I sat there during a lull in activity a young girl of mixed race walked up to the SHU replica and looked it over.
"Do you want to go in?" I said. "
"What is it?" she replied.
"Check it out and I'll tell you after."
A few minutes went by ... and then a few more ... and the girl emerged somewhat different than when she walked in.
"What was your experience like in there?" I said.
"How can they do that to people, I'd lose my mind," she said.
There are times when after all the discussion and wrangling over an issue something gets said that rings out like a clear bell. This was it. Out of the mouths of children, we hear the truth.
It reminded me of that scripture in Mathew 18:3 "you must be as a child to enter the kingdom of heaven." Maybe this is true because children have a closer relationship to the divine not having been jaded by things of the world or maybe it is because they just express what is right there in front of them without the need to censor themselves. Either way this scripture has power in its simplicity.
What rang true for me was that this eleven-year-old girl was connected to compassion and empathy for another human being through her own experience. She was able to map what she felt inside herself onto how another human being might feel. These emotions of empathy and compassion is what Christ was likely referring to when he admonished us to "be like children."
Today we need more of this "child-like" energy. Perhaps it is a sign of the times that the US government is destroying this child-like innocence by detaining (let's be honest with our language -- jailing) children. Many of these children are probably feeling the despair and desolation that people feel in solitary confinement. And without putting too fine a point on it -- THIS POLICY IS WRONG!
There are over 500 children still separated from their mothers and fathers and this is a crime of monumental proportions according to our faith. Christ said: "If anyone causes one of these little ones--those who believe in me--to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea."
This is very strong language and something our alleged leaders might wish to take note of.
What this eleven-year-old girl taught me was that it is never too late to become as a child. To open our eyes and see like a child. To cut through all the arguments and words and just be able to simply have an experience that moves us.
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