I just read a report of the life and death of an 8 year old boy in California. His mother and her boyfriend are charged with his murder. They beat him to death. His first grade teacher was aware of the abuse, which included being shot in the face with a BB gun, and repeatedly reported it to the proper authorities throughout the school year. She did everything that the system allowed her to do to get that little guy some help. But nothing was ever done about the situation, until the little boy was finally removed by the police from his abusive home – in a body bag.
In his last act in first grade, immediately before his death, he made a Mother’s Day card for the woman who killed him. In the card, he told her that he loved her.
Now there are the usual barrage of accusations, denials, and excuses over who was responsible for what when. There are calls for investigations and possible new legislation.
All of that activity is missing the point.
That little boy didn’t need a system. He needed help. Help that he never got because everyone was waiting for the system to provide it. The system failed.
And so he died. Horribly.
I can’t help wondering what has happened to America.
We used to be a nation that didn’t wait for a system. If our neighbor needed help, whether that help was something as small as making a meal because there was a sick family member or as large as building a barn to replace one that had been destroyed, we came together and offered it. We didn’t call an agency and hope for the best.
So the needed meals were actually cooked and the missing barns were actually built.
But we don’t do that any more. Now we feel that our obligation ends when we have called the system. And when the system doesn’t work, we look for the "culprit" inside its doors.
We don’t, however, stop and ask ourselves whether the real problem is that we have stopped being a nation of neighbors who care for and about each other, and instead become a nation of strangers. A nation divided between "us" and "them". We may take care of "us", but we let the system take care of "them". And when the system fails, it wasn’t our fault because that stranger wasn’t really our responsibility in the first place.
But what made America the miracle that it has been is that in this nation, there was no "them". There was only "us". In American communities, folks whose ancestors had hated each other for countless generations found that they could be neighbors. We have not been perfect. We have come closer than any other nation that has ever existed.
We are not coming closer today. Instead, we are disconnecting from each other. The number of people in the "them" category just continues to grow. And in response, the system is growing as well.
But systems can’t replace neighbors. Sadly, as the concept of neighbor dies and the strength of the system grows, more little ones will share the fate of the child in California.
Because that little boy didn’t need a system. He needed a neighbor.