When I was a child, and even into early manhood, there were killers on the loose in America. They were indiscriminate in selecting their victims. Men, women, children, infants, the elderly no one was safe. Two classmates of mine were struck down in junior high. Their killer's name was polio.
Today, of course, very few children even know what polio is. But they all know about guns and violence at school. This is something new, unique to this era we call the '90s. It is an ugly time in America.
The violence from children is only part of a larger tapestry being woven throughout this society. Never have there been so many adults being sent to prison for murdering their children. Typically, we have a young mother with her live-in boyfriend brutalizing and beating her baby to death. And every week you can read about some newborn stuffed into a garbage can or dumpster or abandoned alive in freezing weather for someone to stumble upon.
Somehow, then, it seems to fit right in with the times that this week we read about some young men on a killing rampage in Illinois and Indiana, killing four people and wounding another who just happened to be there when the boys drove by. And, of course, the senseless murder of a coed at Knox College.
Who is to blame for this explosion of violence? It begins in the absence of loving family life, so that the trashy media has become the teacher of values and gangs have provided the fellowship for children seeking to fill a void.
And permeating every seam in the fabric of this society is the absence of respect for life all life. When your ancestors called my ancestors "savages," they were wrong, because whatever else my forefathers did not have, such as science and technology, they did have strong family ties and were saturated with a deep respect for all living things.
James Durham is a young Lakota (Sioux) who is striving to preserve the traditions of our people in this increasingly complex society. (You can read about him in his new book, Sacred Buffalo, the Lakota Way for a New Beginning.)
He and his fellow Vietnam vets had gathered with their families to hold a sweat-lodge ceremony (the sacred rite of purification), and he decided to make some soup. He had gotten a few live rabbits from a neighbor, and he was killing them with a .22 pistol, preparing them for the soup.
His son was standing with a friend and watching. "Let me shoot one of those rabbits," he said. He told him, no, that he would take care of it.
Jim continued, "Nick and the other boy were laughing, and I thought, Hmmmm, they haven't learned to respect life yet.
"'Is this funny?' I asked Nick." Nick giggled.
He asked him if he wanted to kill one of the rabbits, and Nick's eager response was "Oh, yeah."
"Okay," Jim told him. "Grab him by the neck and pray with him and for him. Because he's going to give his life up for you so you can eat."
Nick did as he was told, grabbing the rabbit by the neck and praying to the four sacred directions, and when he had finished, he said, "Give me the gun."
"Oh, no," said Jim. "You're not going to kill that rabbit with a gun. You're going to kill him with your hands."
Nick's eyes got real big, and he said he couldn't do that.
"Yes, you can," replied his father. "If you're going to respect life, you've got to understand death. If you're going to amuse yourself with the death of these pitiful little 'mastincala,' these rabbits, you have to understand that to take a life no matter whose life it is, whether human or animal or bird you must take it responsibly. To learn understanding, you have to kill it with your hands. To learn respect, you have to suffer like you're going to make this animal suffer. So kill the rabbit.
"The boy just stood there. Finally, he asked, 'Can I pray again?'
"He prayed with the rabbit again, and then he choked it to death. As he choked it, he started to cry. When the rabbit was still, he handed it to me.
"'Did you feel him kick because he wanted to live? That's how precious life is. This rabbit gave its life so we can eat. You remember this.'
"'Now, do you want to kill another one?' I asked. Nick shook his head."
Respect for life. A father sharing with his son what he believes.
It is so simple, isn't it? Tragically, it is also missing from the lives of most children today.