What do you do once your heart breaks?
And not the sort of heartbreak that Taylor Swift writes songs about every couple months. I’m talking about the sort of profound, existential heartbreak that makes you wonder if the human race is worth saving.
What do you do with the story of Anthony? Anthony is a little boy stuck in Colorado’s foster care system. One week last summer, he went to Royal Family Kids Camp, a special camp up in the mountains for kids in the foster system, and he had a really good week. Until he came “home” and found out that his foster parents had given him up during that week and his next stop was a group home.
What do you do with boys like James? Or was it Addison? I’m not sure I ever heard it right. Doesn’t matter — we eventually were calling him “Cinderella.” This is a young man, slightly older than my own son, who my family saw last weekend as we were having a great time at Adventure Golf and Raceway (which, by the way, is an exceptionally good family outing!). The problem of Cinderella, which became a problem for us, was that he was out “having a good time” with his mother and two older sisters, and he was the constant object of scorn and ridicule. We heard, on one occasion, mom say loud enough for everybody within 20 feet “are you a retard or something?” We also saw, later, the family sitting around a picnic table with four ice cream cones--one for each sister, and two for mom. Cinderella, understandably, looked miserable.
What do you do with the pictures coming out of Syria? No, not the one CNN decided to run with that was actually from Iraq in 2003 (“major media” credibility, anyone?), but the ones that show the bodies lined up, side by side, mothers next to children, whole families, an entire suburb. 1,400 dead, the victims of a Sarin gas attack, possibly by their own government.
In each of these situations, the instant reaction is to want to step in. It takes a few minutes to realize that an instant reaction to a broken and bleeding heart might, in the long run, be absolutely the worst thing you could do.
With Anthony, what? Give him another temporary home, only to have to eventually put him back into the system, one more betrayal wiser? And what happens to Cinderella when he gets home if somebody tries to step in out in public? And the long-term consequences of Syrian intervention are impossible to predict, but among the possibilities is certainly a regional, if not a world, war. Being a man of Faith, of course my recourse is always prayer. But that somehow seems inadequate — so lacking in the “instant gratification” department. I want to “do” something!
And then I grudgingly acknowledge that the best — maybe the only — thing I can do is just hug my own children, laugh with them and make sure they feel loved. Changing the foster system is going to take time and legislative focus, and fixing the middle east is ... well, a bit of a bigger fish. But, gosh, wouldn’t this all be easier if everybody just loved their children more than they love control, or their habits, or their lifestyle, or their power?
Michael Alcorn is a music teacher and fitness instructor who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. He graduated from Alameda High School and the University of Colorado-Boulder.