By now we have all been privy to the horrendous details of the horrible tragedy in Newtown, Conn. For me this calamity had a particular poignancy. At the very moment the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School were playing out, I was sitting in Century II Concert Hall watching 2,200 elementary children engrossed in a performance of “The Nutcracker.”
The dichotomy between the two events could not be more dramatic.
We humans are capable of the most egregious acts that evil can devise, yet we are equally capable of gracious acts of beauty and generosity that border on the divine. When either is done in a dramatic way, it is noticed (think Jeffrey Dahmer or Mother Teresa). But when we do either as a culture, in subtle ways, we tend to ignore it even when we acknowledge it is happening (think racial discrimination or the Kansas Food Bank).
Even as one lone gunman was destroying the lives of innocent children in Newtown, dozens of adults and young students in Wichita were creating an hour of mystical magic and wonder for hundreds of our own children. What is so important to remember is that maybe, just maybe, the exposure to that one bit of wonder will be the very thing that helps some 9-year-old in the audience down a path of goodness and normalcy in his or her own life instead of a path filled with evil, however subtle.
Goodness and evil are identical in one important way – the less of it one has in one’s life, the less of a chance it has of affecting that life.
If you have children, you know there are many things in their lives you cannot control. What you can control, however, can make all the difference in the world.
You can hug them, tell them you love them, tell them that love is unconditional, feed and clothe them, protect them – and show them all the beauty and goodness you can. The best way to do that is engage them with the arts, both as a participant and an observer.
Take them to the Wichita Art Museum, Music Theatre for Young People, Exploration Place, the Wichita Symphony, next year’s “Nutcracker” that Ballet Wichita does so well, or the hundreds of other cultural activities this city offers. Show them the apex of human achievement that such things represent. Then let them play in the school band or orchestra, or sing in the choir. Let them take tap or ballet lessons, or sign them up for a class at CityArts.
Let them paint or draw or write poems and stories. Children have so little control over their own lives, especially at a young age. But you can give them control over something they completely own – a poem, a painting, a drawing, a song or a dance that they alone have done. In so doing they discover the fulfillment such a human endeavor can bestow, while simultaneously realizing the effort it takes to do it and do it well, thereby making themselves part of something bigger than themselves and connecting them to humanity.
I make this plea not to make a case for the arts or arts funding. The arts and artists will always be with us, because we desperately need them. The world will always need doctors, lawyers and engineers as well. But it will be a better place with doctors who know the importance that healthy emotions play in healing, lawyers who understand that justice must be tempered with mercy, and engineers who understand that computers are only good for giving you answers to questions already asked.
The arts can be the difference in a life, if only to fill a void that evil is all too ready to fill. Parents can do nothing better than fill those voids with the most human thing we do – art.