The same day the world (OK, most of the world, only part of the United States) was sharing this newly released Obama family photograph taken by Annie Liebowitz, wars continued and tragedy struck elsewhere.
But, oh..these little girls are lovely! Just for a moment, we can pause and enjoy the smiles on their faces, the casual but confident way their arms are draped around their parents, the way Michelle's arm rests on Malia's leg and her other hand clasps little Sasha's. Even the most sophisticated photographer can't force or fake the body language of this family. These children are secure. No real injury has come their way; and we feel certain none will.
The cable news had reports about two other little girls whose ages are close to Sasha and Malia's. One lived in Florida and the other in Missouri. Both are dead, abducted and killed in the past few days, no doubt molested or raped as well. One, Somer Thompson, was seven. Her mother said she loved everybody. Never met a stranger. The other was nine. Somer was found in a landfill amidst the trash.
What is the difference between these children and the Obama girls? I can imagine that they loved the same TV shows and music, maybe even played with the same dolls and toys. Those two little girls also loved their families and were adored. Yet, because their parents worked and they walked home from school with other children, they were susceptible to the predators who destroyed their lives and their families' happiness.
I don't have an answer for this problem. I know it's not new... girls (and boys) have been victims of sexual abuse for a very long time. My own experience as a child and the many women (and men) with whom I have spoken as a minister makes me very certain that there are as many women who suffered some form of sexual abuse as there are who have not. One thing I am certain of is that maintaining silence, hiding the truth because of shame, and keeping secrets has not served us well.
I know that I was overprotective of my daughter when she was small because of my experience and the things I had heard. But I also told her the truth, at the right time, in the right way. I will never regret this; for even one incident of sexually inappropriate behavior can scar a girl well into womanhood. So I recommend vigilance and clear communication.
Societally, I am certain that the incidents of stranger abuse and violence against children has increased as opportunities have expanded. Working, busy, distracted parents, kids home alone, and the loss of extended families and close neighborhood community probably intensify the problem, too. I was so delighted when I heard that Mrs. Obama's mother was moving into the White House with the new First Family; it wasn't that I thought the girls would be safer with her there, but that I thought... what a wonderful example! Every child needs what Alice Miller calls an "enlightened witness," someone who knows them and believes them, and grandparents can fill that role. If you are not a parent, you can be an important adult that a child can trust.
We just have to realize that all children are precious and special. Every single one should have a chance, a lot of chances, and hope, and affection, and encouragement.I don't think we have a child-centered society. We use kids to make money, feed them garbage in school lunches, and act as if they annoy us. But.. we could. Looking at the Obama family portrait, I know that what once seemed impossible can come true.
PRAYER: There is nothing more important than the spirit of a child. Let us endeavor to affirm and honor every child we meet, to acknowledge them as precious manifestations of Creation's gifts. If we see them as they really are, innocent, fragile, and unique, we will do all we can to keep them safe and to protect them from harm. May the day come when every child the world over may be blessed with enough to eat, a safe place to live, and security from the harm that cannot be healed. Amen