Thursday, August 11, 2011

We are made from the sharpest things you say

We are young and we don't care; your dreams, and your hopeless hair--we never wanted it to be this way for all our lives.

Back in June I spent a weekend at a youth leadership conference with Alex's parish acting as the token female chaperone, where it was made abundantly clear to me that I have forgotten what it is like to be a teenager. I'm not quite so far removed from the experience that I think dying my hair funny colors and wearing silly hats will help me relate, but I have forgotten what it feels like to be my own sun.

It's not that the kids at the conference were selfish and egocentric--this was a group of Good Kids at a church retreat learning how to be more effective leaders, after all--but all of their thoughts, emotions, worries, and joys were always of the most pressing concern. Each and every single one of the teens I got to know over that weekend were on their own, private adventure in which they were the main protagonist. Their hushed conversations during Mass were more like stage-whispers than actual stealth, they listened to their peers tell stories as they eagerly awaited the right moment to interject with their own anecdote or opinion, and the vim and vigor for life were undeniable in their eyes as they swept their gazes around the room.

They updated Facebook constantly on their verboten cell phones.

I'd forgotten how intense life could be, where I was fully cognizant that each and every single breath I drew was inextricably linked to my own destiny, and I'd forgotten how important my life could be. College and post-college life (I refuse to consider this The Real World, the bills aren't soul-crushing enough and my job is too fun to be reality) imposed both a sense of philosophical relativism and a practical awareness of the importance of others. It is with a combination of this more mature panoramic view and (thanks to reacquainting myself with music I used to love) a visceral reminder of teenage passion that I have read about the rioting in England, and found my reaction to be, above all, one of profound horror.

The media accounts of the four days of riots all seem to agree that the rioting was, by and large, perpetrated by youths, many as young as fourteen, and as far as anyone can tell, after the very first protest march to demand justice for the man who was shot by police, the violence, the looting, the fires, and the deaths were nothing more than sport.

Five people are dead. Three of whom were young men trying to defend their neighborhood against the gangs of youth who were attempting to destroy their homes. A family whose apartment was burned down were almost killed when teenagers began throwing burning bottles at the car they were seeking refuge in. Hundreds of people are homeless, dozens of business owners have lost everything they have, and hundreds of people were hospitalized--mostly non-rioters.

I remember what it is like to want to be a part of something bigger, and I remember what it is like to get caught up in a moment. What terrifies me the most about what transpired in England is that I find it completely believable. My friends and I were good kids when we were teenagers. We generally did well in school, we were fiercely dedicated to a club, we didn't drink or smoke, most of us weren't having sex, and if we broke the law it was laughable misdemeanors, yet it doesn't take too much stretching of my imagination to imagine us getting sucked into something as epic as rioting. I don't believe that the majority of the young people out rioting in England are bad, sociopathic people. Some of them? Sure. But not all of them, and the idea that it can be so easy for so many normal people to cause so much damage, to be so callous and unthinking makes the breath catch in my lungs.

I don't know what there is to be done, I don't know if anything can be done to prevent something like this from happening again. I just know that I'm going to be very kind to the teenagers in my life.

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