Even though I grew up as a child during the Vietnam War era, with battle footage streaming on the evening news each night, things seemed tamer back in the late 60’s and early 70’s. The world didn’t feel as frightening and threatening. Although there was a military draft, the conflict was far away from home. We could sleep safe at night.
Things appeared to get much worse at the dawn of the 21st century. The 24 hour news cycle was born as cable TV grew in popularity. The rise of the internet brought us information almost instantly. We were all afraid to travel by air right after 9-11.
The past 8 years have especially fractured our nation as chaos has escalated. Racial tension has divided us. Police shootings have left those of us with friends who are cops even more frightened than usual. Gang activity and rioting has left me extremely concerned for my friends of color. A warped sense of how to address jihadism without offending Muslims has made our nation even more vulnerable. Children are entitled and disrespectful of adults. It is hard not to feel edgy or have a melancholy malaise all the time.
This week took these emotions to a new level for me. Without re-traumatizing readers by posting videos or discussing every detail, suffice it to say that a teen with a disability was horrifically terrorized. He was tortured by someone he thought was a friend as well as by 3 other people, all while streaming on Facebook Live. Reading about it was upsetting enough. Seeing tiny snippets of video clips created a visceral response in me. The utter depravity was beyond shocking.
Maybe this one just hit too close to home.
I am not a stranger to having a child with special needs abused. Grade school was hard enough for my youngest. Intermediate school was 4 years of hell. The administration at my daughter’s school did NOT keep her safe. She was continually verbally bullied and ostracized.
Things came to a head during the 2013-14 school year. We endured unrelenting months marked by repeated trauma. At one point she was encircled by a shouting group of students on the playground — a HUGE deal for a young girl with sensory processing disorder who has sensitive hearing. Another time she was kicked in the jaw by a student who was chasing and harassing her. She fought back and initially got an in-school suspension. I challenged the principal and had it removed from her permanent record. The final nightmare that year was when a boy purposely slammed her into a piece of playground equipment. She was out of school with a concussion for 3 weeks.
Parents of kids like mine hunger for their child to have healthy friendships.
When a child has an autism spectrum disorder, executive functioning issues, or ADHD, they’re often socially clumsy. They don’t read other people’s social cues properly. Personal boundaries don’t function normally. This makes our kids more vulnerable. They can be taken advantage of more easily. It’s simple to lead them into trouble or mischief.
All I could think of when I heard of the Chicago incident was, It could’ve been my child! It picked the scab that had healed over all of those old wounds, inflicted on my heart watching my own daughter suffer at the hands of others. I felt anguish thinking of how leveled I would be if that had been my girl.
But for the grace of God…
We are very blessed that our daughter has blossomed in high school. She has some solid friendships now. There are adults that are invested in her. The learning strategist she has at school is a perfect, encouraging fit. Her academic performance is solid. Clothing and hair more closely fits in with her peers. She’s even making some better decisions for herself now.
Even so, there’s always that nagging, dormant concern that she may be extremely vulnerable.
More than meets the eye
Aside from the stomach turning response to watching someone bound, slashed, head slammed into a toilet bowl, I feel even more sorrow. It’s not only a reaction to the victim in this case or the possibilities with my daughter. There are two other extremely upsetting components to this crime.
First, thousands of parents just like me are now feeling terrorized by what these 4 depraved people did. They are fearful for their children with special needs. Their imaginations run away with them. Vigorous discussion is taking place between mothers I know, wondering how they might prevent this sort of thing from happening to their own sons or daughters. This has exponentially added to the stress these parents already bear every day.
Second, one of the perpetrators of this crime is the mother of a special needs child herself. Stunning, isn’t it?! It was very easy to look on Facebook and look at all of her photos. My heart went out to her precious young son who suffers from a genetic disorder that has left him severely disabled. You would think this would engender some sort of compassion for others in her. I am sick at heart just thinking of this youngster growing up without his mother. He already faces enough adversity merely fighting for his life. What sort of depraved disconnect would make this young woman fail to see her own son in the eyes of her victim?
Taking the higher ground
While everything human in me wants these 4 to be put down like rabid dogs at the pound, God tells me otherwise.
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. – Romans 12:17, ESV
So I pray. I cry out to the Holy Spirit from my toes. At a time like this it is HARD for me to understand how Jesus was willing to die for this evil humanity. He died for those 4 thugs every bit as much as He did for me.
I pray for the victim and his family. PTSD is sure to be a lifetime battle. And the internal emotional wrestling must be a battle for them all.
I pray for our country and our culture. Aren’t we just emerging from the Christmas season? I think of the lyrics from JOY TO THE WORLD, “No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground…” Yet, here we are, sin laden and sorrowful. I travail…
LORD, turn our hearts towards You. Increase our love for You and for one another. Help us to treat each other the way each of us would want to be treated, regardless of faith, creed, color, sexuality, or beliefs. Remind us that every life is precious in Your sight. Heal our heart wounds that cause us to lash out. Lift us to a higher ground than this hopeless world. This depraved world is not exactly what I had in mind.