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Susan Madrak Headshot

It's A Hard Life Wherever You Go

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I got off the phone with my best friend after making plans to meet this weekend, and a half-hour or so later, she called me back. She was sobbing.

A friend's 35-year-old son was shot and killed last night in a drive-by in Wilmington, DE. He was married, had kids and a job. He went to visit some friends in his old neighborhood to say hello.

And now he's dead. Torn to shreds by an automatic weapon.

My friend raged about black-on-black crime, how her community was destroying itself with drugs and guns and irresponsible behavior. She talked about how the neighborhood where she lived with her then-husband changed from a beautiful block to a mess in just five years. (They moved out of the city because she didn't want her daughter going to Philadelphia public schools.)

There's no good answer, but lots of questions. Where are the jobs? Why are the schools so bad, and why do teenagers in poor neighborhoods have such an unwarranted sense of self-esteem and entitlement? Why all the guns?

Where do you begin?

I told her about a little girl my sister taught in our old grade school, which is now in a really bad crack neighborhood. She said the little girl was really smart, but afraid to draw attention to herself by achieving, because that was "acting white."

Since when did being smart and working hard translate into "acting white"? I asked. There's something really wrong here.

Then a friend called to let me know Liza Sabater's 8-year-old niece was killed this morning when a storm knocked down a tree and hit the tent her family was camping in. (I'd gotten to know Liza a little bit at the Take Back America conference.) I think of the stunned grief, the aching emptiness her mother must feel, and I multiply it by the hundreds of thousands of mothers in the Middle East. It feels as if the world couldn't be big enough to contain all that sorrow.

And all day long, I've been thinking about those young Israeli girls, writing "With love from Israel" on those missiles. What the hell were their parents thinking?

It tears at my heart, what's going on in the Middle East, in Africa. What makes our so-called leaders think they can move people around like game pieces, how can they be so willing to obliterate them? No, worse - exterminate them, like roaches.

And how can Bush sit on his hands, then cry crocodile tears over frozen embryos?

Why is it that, after all these centuries of so-called civilization, the only thing that's really changed is that we can kill more people, more efficiently? (Oh, and we can show it live on CNN.)

My heart is so heavy tonight, and that Nanci Griffith song keeps running through my head:

I am a backseat driver from America
We drive to the left on Falls Road
And the man at the wheel's name is Seamus
We pass a child on the corner he knows
And Seamus says, now what chance has that kid got
And I say from the back, 'I don't know'
He says there's barbed wire at all of these exits
And there ain't no place in Belfast for that kid to go

'Cause it's a hard life, it's a hard life, it's a very hard life
It's a hard life wherever you go
And if we poison our children with hatred
Then the hard life is all that they'll know.

And there ain't no place in this whole world for those kids to go.

And the hard life is all that they'll know.