I Got Strings

I Got Strings

by Michael Channing

Wednesday was the nation-wide school walkout. Thousands of kids across the country walked out of class in an effort to raise awareness of gun violence and add their voices to the call for stricter gun control laws. Many teachers and parents supported the kids' actions. Some schools relaxed suspension rules to allow the students to protest and to be heard and seen. Sadly, many did the opposite. I see kids on Twitter saying their school staff openly mocked them, threatened them. Their peers chided them for taking part in a useless endeavor. Their parents punished them. Many, many Twitter users insulted them, used their images as hateful memes, questioned their motivations. Called them puppets of the Left, and you can insert whatever democratic or liberal boogeyman is in current fashion. That's the part that angers me the most. Dismissing them because they are mere puppets of some controlling bureaucratic, deep-state, shadow Illuminati. It's blatantly hypocritical because all of us have strings.

You are a puppet. That's right. You. So am I. Every last one of us.

Before you start asking about the size of my aluminum foil hat, listen. We are pulled in many directions by a cat's cradle of strings that were attached at birth.

Here's the most basic question. Did you ask to be born? Did you request your parents or your birthplace? Of course not. You were fertilized, gestated, and squeezed out into some random location by people you never met without anyone asking how you felt about the whole process. You had no control over the care you were given. Did you get a good mother who held you to her warm, pulsing skin the second you were ripped from the nurturing, dark, and silent womb? Were you well? Were you in immediate and unending pain from the defects built into your DNA? Were you dropped into a gas station toilet and drowned? Were you wrapped in a clean blanket and cradled? When you cried, did anyone care? Were you unable to cry because your vocal cords never formed?

All these things happen everyday. We are born puppets of circumstance. Without say, without will, without the power to care for ourselves, we are forced to accept whatever we're given.

Everyday, somewhere, a child is celebrated because she can name nearly every letter of the alphabet. Everyday, a child is belittled for not being able to ignore her hunger pains. Every night a child is put to bed next to his lifelong stuffed animal friend, tucked into the covers, kissed, loved. Every night, a child falls asleep on whatever surface he can find that isn't covered with filth, kept company by the television, wondering if his mother will be home that night or sometime after daybreak. For every kid that gets a birthday party at the venue of his choice with all his best friends, another is beaten or raped by his own parents. None of them have any choice.

Some kids get good parents. Or good enough parents. Some don't. Some are given all the opportunities in the world. Some are physically or emotionally crippled. What they do with their lives is determined by dice thrown before they're ever born.

On February 14, 2018, a kid walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and killed 17 people. The universe decided that instead of math class, some would be murdered, some would have to watch, others would fear for their lives. What do you do when something like that happens? You can't shrug it off and continue as if nothing happened. Over time you may heal. But forever in your head and in your heart you'll ask why? There are a long chain of events that pushed the moment into existence and allowed it to happen, but what it really comes down is: because. It happened because it happened. That's a painful, unsatisfactory answer, but it's the only one there will ever be. Which leads you to a choice: Do nothing, or do something.

It's easy to believe there is no way to stop the universe from randomly dropping pain and death. It's what it does. Give up. Accept whatever comes. Dance on your strings until you dangle limp and dead.

Or you can literally do anything else. March, carry signs, sing songs, write poems, put hash tags in front of all your statements. Taking action means wresting some tiny portion of control away from an indifferent cosmos. Even if you don't enact any change at all, trying makes the universe feel a little less frightening. Let the kids walk out. Don't give them any grief. The universe brought classes to an instant, blood stop on February 14. Did that cause you any harm? Unless you or your children were there, no. So how are you hurt by a civil, peaceful walkout during school? All they're trying to do is exert a fraction of control over their own lives and bank a few ounces of pride in spite of an unfair fate that doesn't care if they live or die.

We're all born helpless. Count yourself lucky to have made it this far. The same universe that kills others without warning has allowed you to live. When that universe crashes a truck into the side of your car or a plane into the building where you work or a bolt of lightening through the roof of your house, you won't think that's also luck, and you won't ignore it. You'll look for blame, and you'll try to fix the problem, or at least hope others will. That's what the protesting teenagers are doing. Let them do it. Without judgment. Without punishment. There's enough of that going around, and eventually you'll see some of it, too.

I Want the World to Know

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Chokes and Warbles
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Chokes and Warbles, a collection of essays and poems by Michael Channing

February 16, 2018