My ninth grader will be reading “Night” by Elie Wiesel this year in his literature class at Clovis East High School.
I picked the book up months ago because it is also an Oprah Book Club selection. I got through about three pages before I was overcome with grief. I want to read it with him, because it is assigned reading. I have already purchased my own copies of every book on his reading list. But this one is so graphic. It is the story of a young boy who survived the Nazi concentration camps.
It hurts to even think of reading it, and yet I know how important it is. If we avoid the pain, we can accidentally forget. We must not forget. I sob just thinking of beginning. I’m sitting here right now wrestling with emotions. The thought popped into my head that I should try to be strong for my son. How on earth could I ever prepare myself to handle something so horrific? I cannot prepare. I just have to read it.
I’ve read other accounts, and just the knowledge of what was done is more than anyone can bear — but to read it with emotion attached, because the writer is brilliant, is an award winning writer, a Nobel Prize winner, and not just telling the facts — that is what scares me. It is a heart being ripped open before me, and I have to go watch and somehow participate in order to make sure we don’t stand by and participate for real.
Fast forward a few days. I have now begun. My son has not. I needed to read it through on my own first to be able to know what was in store for us.
Teaching the bedtime routine
My own household’s nights consist of our 2-year old learning to stay in bed once he is there. We are having to stay consistent and not just let him get up for one more snuggle, or one more glass of water. Otherwise our evening is chaotic with trips back and forth to the baby’s room and not a moment to unwind until we go to bed.
But after I had read a chapter of amazing brutality toward children, my little one came creeping back into the living room. I welcomed the chance to hold him, to smother him with kisses. I couldn’t hold back the tears as I cherished his little face. So many mothers during the Holocaust were deprived of this. So many parents had their children ripped from their arms. How could I not hold him every possible chance I get?
I am still struggling with wanting to protect my freshman son from having to read this. He was the one who, in sixth grade, decided that when he grew up, he wanted to be the next Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King Jr. He wanted to be significant in the fight against prejudice. I know that it is vitally important to remember what can happen when people forget to be human toward one another, when the world would rather not know the gruesome details because the details are disturbing. If we don’t want to listen, horrendous things can be done because we turn our backs so as not to upset our stomachs.
My heart screams, “He’s only a kid!” And then I remember that he’s a kid who plays video games. While I sit here wanting to believe how innocent our children are — a surprising number of them are at their television screens blowing things up, shooting at people and witnessing conscience numbing violence.
I would love to say I don’t allow this kind of thing. I try to put my foot down about the more graphic games, the ones rated for mature, but what I forbid might be easily available in other people’s homes. These are signs of our times, and they frighten me.
It frightens me to think that children are now shooting people over minor irritations. A young girl in our Valley stood trial last summer for fatally shooting her mother and her mother’s boyfriend because they told her to clean her room. This was reported in The Bee.
The girl had remorse after the fact, but at her moment of frustration, the most natural thing in the world to her was to aim a gun and pull the trigger. I grieve for her. Her conscience had been seared by a culture totally OK with violence.
I have just turned the corner in my own mind. I am now adamant that my son read this book. In fact, we should all read this book. Oprah is onto something. Our society is already condoning unbelievable violence. There is an old proverb which says that those who will not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Our world is currently on the sidelines of another horrific genocide, this time in Africa. What will history say that we did to aid our fellow man?
Please join me in reading about one of the most gruesome periods of our history — not to revel in its brutality, but to avoid becoming part of it, to awaken our consciences and revolt against a tide that is bringing us closer and closer to accepting horrors like this as commonplace.
We need to be repulsed and spurred to action over tragedies, so that they cannot happen again. If the action we take is a real heart-to-heart talk with our kids about their video games, I will believe we may have a chance. If we go further and speak out to our policymakers about standing up for victims around the world, we will be even closer to being truly human.
This was originally published in the Fresno Bee, Valley Voices section on November 18, 2006