The child is beautiful; seven years old, long blonde hair spilling over her little shoulders, eyes blue and wide as the sky. I was having a long-overdue lunch with her equally-lovely mother. As most conversations go in Arizona, our talk drifted toward the upcoming election. That's when the child - that beautiful little blue-eyed girl - looked squarely at me and said, "I'm afraid of Obama. He's a Muslim."
My eyes flew up just in time to see the mother give a quick "good girl" smile to her child.
Oh my Hillary Clinton stars and garters! What would our former First Lady's village of child raisers say about this? I remember how she worked so hard to educate us all on the impact that individuals and groups outside the family have, for better or worse, on a child's well-being. How did our "village" go so wrong that a seven-year old girl would think a respected American Senator and presidential candidate is the equivalent of the Bogey Man under the bed? And where did she get the notion that people of the Muslim faith are to be feared rather than embraced as part of our human experience?
Once I quit sputtering ... and after talk turned back to other typical Arizona topics such as guessing when our weather would finally cool to less-than-lethal temperatures, and we went back to our salads and chicken fingers ... I thought about that little girl's wide-eyed statement. Mainly, I thought about what this election is teaching our children.
Kids learn from the words they hear, the gestures that accompany those words, the silent body language as adults move and reflect on nuance and meaning of ideas and concepts. They learn from their teachers, from their peers, from the one-eyed television babysitter that squats in our living rooms, and mostly ... yes, mostly ... they learn from their parents.
It's clear that Sesame Street and Blues Clues didn't teach this little girl to be fearful and filled with misinformation and mistrust. No. This language came from people who love her more than life itself. From those who want the best for her, who want her safe and healthy, who want her to grow up a strong and independent woman.
Somehow, though, these loving people managed to allow a sideways thought to slide into her little psyche. And that thought? Be Afraid! Be afraid of people who are different, or darker, or who have different forms of worship, or who speak in different languages.
Arizona is a very diverse state, populated with a fierce variety of hardy people. It is McCain "maverick" country. Mostly conservative, its language has been infused with the past eight years of fearful thoughts, now fueled with even more gasoline-ignited words from John McCain and Sarah Palin. It's unfortunate that that original Arizona conservatism - something of former pride - has now been twisted and warped into something angry and frightening.
No wonder our kids are confused. They hear their parents nod in agreement to notions of division and "otherness." Their Village has abandoned its role of being protectors and educators, and has turned instead to becoming fearful people and word-throwing bullies.
We finished our lunch in peace only because we had changed the subject. We smiled and hugged our goodbyes. Still, I left with a sad and heavy heart. You see, the mother is my daughter. And that little girl is my dear granddaughter who is now scared of a man who's done nothing more fearful than to provide us all with the audacity to hope for a better world.
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