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Dr. Cara Barker Headshot

The Lost Girls: When Does 'Me' Become 'We'?

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With all the news of global challenges lately, you might have missed one story that's been taking place in the Pacific Northwest. No, I am not referring to the battering we've gotten from the four atypical snowstorms in the Greater Seattle area. Nor am I referencing the natural disaster our governor has declared, due to flooding from torrential rains in combo with melting snow.

There is another sort of challenge to be faced. This particular story involves the murder of a baby in a small town by the name of Port Orchard, Washington, just a few days ago. The remains of this newborn were found in the garbage. Apparently, the baby's 16 year old mother has been charged with homicide, dumping her neonatal infant into a dumpster's trash, which was then sent to a compactor. The investigators found the baby's body after combing through the debris of 60 tons of compacted refuse. Unspeakably horrid.

Buried, Silent Cries
If you missed the story, it's not surprising. The news has been jammed with stories of ongoing disasters, including those in the Gaza strip, leaving over 700 dead. Meanwhile, the toll mounts in other war-torn parts of the Middle East. And, we must not forget the ongoing, alarming levels of warnings over the economy, as well as distractions from politicians like the governor of Illinois. There has also been extensive coverage on the new battleship launched with George H.W. Bush. We are obsessed with war.

With this in the limelight, it is all-too-easy to overlook one baby's death. Such an oversight, however, would speak to the sort of crimes against humanity that get hidden underneath the consequences of that lust for power that always seems to get our world in trouble. But if we turn away from the silent cries of one lost baby, if we tell ourselves the story that 'there is nothing we can do' then we turn away from all that is good, decent, and meaningful in our time here on Planet Earth. As long as we continue to focus on 'me' issues, we fail in our most fundamental task of this millennium: to find a way of becoming 'we' in ways which build a better world.

The Truth of the Matter
We are here to make a difference. We are here to bear Witness. We are here to live on purpose with what holds most central value to our individual hearts. We are here to live out greatness, to create beauty out of darkness, to remember that when one creature suffers, we are either part of the problem or the solution. We are here to do better and we know it.

Up to Now
When a child is murdered by its mother, the media focuses on the individual accused, while flashing footage on makeshift memorials composed of teddy bears, flowers, candles and hand-scrawled notes. Something deep inside us urges these ofrendas, these altars commemorating the fact that a life was prematurely snuffed out. We ruminate on the unlived life. We speculate as to motive. We feel sad. We know there is a deeper story going on, yet we fail to find it.

There is another level of such an act that goes unspoken, unaddressed. Based on results, our society itself is not without culpability. What I know with certainty is this. Whenever a mother kills her own, she is unconscious of other options. Such acts, assuming they do not stem from a psychosis, are born from silent desperation.

This is true throughout nature. I recall a time some years ago when this was demonstrated for me in an eery way. One morning before dawn in Arizona, I was walking along one of those man-made lakes. In the center of which I heard the sound of a duckling who was suffering. Its mother, and her brood, came over to the baby, who, apparently, had gotten caught in an old fishing line. Nudging the line with her wing, the mother could not extract the hook from her baby. To my shock, she then turned her back on this duckling, and swam off into the distance, leaving her baby to perish. If the hook didn't do him in, the waiting crows would. At first, I was in disbelief. Yet, soon I realized she did what was instinctual: she must save her other children.

Now, you might be asking yourself, what is the relationship to human situations of baby killing? All I am saying is that nature is nature. Everything rides on perception. If a mother, human or not, believes she has no other options, she will do what she will to save her life, and that of those around her, even if it means sacrificing the innocent lamb. Of course, this does not excuse the act. What I am saying is that somehow perpetrators, like this teenage mother, do not comprehend any feasible way out of their desperation, and they turn to desperate acts. Even when the community offers a 'newborn' drop-off option, as we do in Washington State, somehow this message is not heard. And this does not even begin to address situations like that of the Anthony case.

How is it that a young woman comes to such a terrible state of mind? Why is it that we, of this society, fail to hear such silent cries for help? What is it that keeps us from registering the symptoms of these lost girls? What could possibly be more important than extending our own hand, not in judgment, but as an offering of help and hope so that babies do not come to ends like this? Because whether these girls are in our family or not, such lost girls belong to us. They birth our future, or our demise, and we co-parent the result through our attentiveness or our indifference.

The tragic thing is that this is neither the first, nor will it be the last time we hear breaking news of another lost innocent, at the hands of a parent. In the meantime, my question is this: How can you and I get better at hearing the silent cries of our youth before another life is lost? What must we do to get better, as individuals, and as a people, to let go our attitude 'it's not my problem'? Who is willing to first convert their focus from 'me' living' to 'we'? What will it take? What do you believe causes this deadly condition, where a mother feels so helpless and hopeless? I know my maternal grandmother must have struggled with her own unwanted pregnancy that was to become my mother, causing them to immigrate to the United States. I know I would not have the blessing of my daughter, had her own birthmother not found an adoption option, and the courage to pursue it. So, I am asking you: What can we do to turn the compost of this lost child into new life for those at risk in the future?

Please respond with your thoughts, feelings and experience. What are the stories of Lost Girls you have known? What might have helped? The era we are entering requires our working together. With your help, in my January columns, I will take on the issue of Voice: finding it, lifting it, and reclaiming it for a Greater Good. It is time.

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