My heart was breaking yesterday afternoon as I watched the images out of Pakistan. Children running, crying. Some covered in blood. Parents with frantic expressions on their faces, imagining the worst, praying for hope. Family members discovering the terrible truth. Dozens dead. No, a hundred. No, more.
I watched these images from the comfort of my living room in these United States. My child sang, "I've Been Working on the Railroad," as she built a block tower steps away from the images that melted into a collection of similar images stored away in my consciousness. Children being killed in their schools; we are not immune to this kind of depravity in America.
As I sat feeling a mixture of emotions -- thankful to live here, thankful to have my child safely in my arms, disgusted that I'm so selfish as to be thankful to have my child when someone else's died a violent and horrific death today, disgusted to live in a world where these sorts of disparities even exist, enraged with the men who orchestrated this horror, filled with a need for revenge -- I decided to look back into my teaching archives for a United Nations speech I taught last semester. In it, a young woman named Malala Yousafzai, herself a victim of an act of violence by the Taliban, spoke out about the necessity of educating our young people as a means of thwarting the closed-mindedness of extremism and fundamentalism. She said it best: "The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them."
And therein lies the answer. Education.
I would love to say that faith is the answer. Most world religions are peace-seeking religions, and faith is a healer. But, if we have any hope in combating extremism, to combat the mentality that what I believe is truer than what others believe, that what I believe trumps everything, even the basic humanity of another human being, then we must continue supporting literacy and promoting the highest education possible for our young people, not just here in the United States, but globally as well. Those Pakistani children are heroes, absolutely. They were in a place that was supposed to be safe to gain the knowledge necessary to combat the very ignorance that brought them down. And today, millions of children in Pakistan and around the world will return to their schools and will continue this fight. I know that I will have a very specific message for my own child as she grows... that no one belief system is higher or more worthy than another. That the best gift we've been given as a human race is the ability to learn, to think, to reason. That a human's priority should always be to educate him/herself about the world and its inhabitants. To think outside of ourselves -- that is our greatest responsibility.
Malala went on to write a compelling memoir and is the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. And, at times like this when it's so hard to have hope in the world, I find solace in these words from a young Pakistani Muslim girl, "I am here to speak for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all the terrorists and extremists. I do not even hate the Talib who shot me. Even if there was a gun in my hand and he was standing in front of me, I would not shoot him. This is the compassion I have learned from Mohamed, the prophet of mercy, Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha."
Let us all have this sort of resolve and compassion as we wake up this morning and send our children to school.