Monday, January 10, 2011

The Life That Christina Taylor Green Would Have Lived

Christina Taylor Green was nine years old when she was killed. The gunman who murdered her and stole her from her family and friends and everyone else who loved her has foreclosed us from knowing what her future would have been otherwise. To contemplate who she should would have become only makes the crime that much more unspeakable, but it seems necessary to do so.

It is important now to consider what the life of Christina Taylor Green may have been, impossible as that may seem, because it is way to honor the life she already lived. It is important because her family has already begun to do so as part of their mourning process as has the community in which she was raised. But perhaps most importantly of all, to consider what her future might have been, and what she and we have lost, might provide some necessary motivation so that we do not let this happen to another child.

In defiance of her murderer, in defiance of those who tolerated the atmosphere that allowed her murder to occur, the murders of five others, and the attempted assassination of Gabby Giffords, we ask: What would Christina have become? Who would she have turned out to be? Would she have had children and grandchildren? Whose lives among us would she have impacted?

Christina was already serving and helping others. She already held elected office at age nine, serving on the student council of her elementary school. She worked for a charity that helped other children, Kids Helping Kids.

The last place her parents thought she would be harmed would be meeting her Congresswoman.

“I allowed her to go, thinking it would be an innocent thing,” Christina’s mother, Roxanna Green, told the New York Times.

At the age of 32, Gabby Giffords had once been the youngest woman elected to the Arizona State Senate, and now she was a Congresswoman. In a state that allowed for and even celebrated the fierce independence and strength of its women, it still was not too long ago that there were few women in elected politics. Gabby was to be a possible role model for Christina, one of the reasons that her parents were hoping that their daughter would be able to spend a few minutes with the Congresswoman.

Christina’s dad, John, told the Times, “I could have easily have seen her as a politician.”

Who is to say that if there has been no gunman in the strip mall, and had Christina had lived, that the events that day might have changed the direction of Christina’s life? Maybe it would have a seminal moment in the life of a child, laying the seeds for her to become involved in public service or public life.

Or perhaps it would have been just another and interesting and playful day in the life of a child that she would have enjoyed and meant little more. The answers are another thing stolen, irreplaceable, by the gunman.

I remember as young child listening to Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King on the radio and then watching them on television. I would listen on phonograph records to speeches made by John Kennedy and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. I was mesmerized. Words to a child (although hardly that much different to a grown up) were as commonplace and necessary as the air we breathe, but here these men were turning them into something else, the most powerful thing in the world. But it was as a child actually going to and watching Robert Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey that changed a life’s course.

Perhaps Christina meeting Gabby Giffords would have changed her life—and who and what she would have become. Or perhaps that is my personal projection.

Her dad has said in various interviews that envisioned her in public life.

But Christina’s father is probably like most dads of young children that I know. On other days, or alternatively even on the same day, they imagine their children has been all grown up doing any number of things.

I have an acquaintance who adopted their three year old from Kazakhstan. His son has his own YouTube video doing a perfect rendition of a song from the Little Mermaid. His dad is convinced, in part because of that performance, that his son will be a politician. Or course the same YouTube performance leads his dad on other occasion to think that his son will be other days be a great actor. And that is only on days when he is not daydreaming his son will be a Olympic snowboard champion, representing, of course, his native Kazakhstan.

Christina was an athlete too. She was already an accomplished gymnast, a swimmer, and dancer. But most remarkably she played second base for the Canyon del Oro Pirates. She was the only girl on the little league team. This last fact makes more sense when learns that her grandfather is Dallas Green, who was the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1980 when they won a World Series title, and later also managed the New York Yankees and New York Mets. Her father, John Green, is a scout for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Her other brother, eleven years old, is also named Dallas, and apparently named after their grandfather.

Would Christina have gone on to be a student athlete? Of course she would. But would sports have also become her career as it had for her dad and granddad?

Christina loved animals. At home, she had as pets her very own Geckos, and she also cared for the dogs and cats of her neighbors. She had ambitions, she told her parents, to be a veterinarian. At nine, she even had some of the specifics worked out. She would study at New York University. She had been born back east, in a small Pennsylvania town, so she wanted to go back East. She was born on Sept. 11th 2001, even featured in a book of children born on that day. Even at nine, this was part of her identity, something she took pride in, a reason why sometimes she dressed in red, white, and blue. Would she have studies veterinary medicine at NYU? Is that what would have in part become of her life?

We will know nothing of what would have become of Christina Green had she been able to live her life to a natural expectancy. It is a void not dissimilar to the one now in her family’s heart.

But we know a couple of things for sure: “From the very beginning, she was an amazing child,” her mother told the New York Times. “She was very bright, very mature, off the charts. She was the brightest thing that happened that day.” In short, whatever she would have done with her life would have been amazing.

And whatever that was, her life would have been in some way a life of service.

We can never know for sure but this was a little girl who was going to give and do for others, whether that was her own family or in his community, or even something larger.

While posting about her the last couple of days on my Facebook page, comments like these were not uncommon:

Dawn Frantangelo, the NBC News correspondent, wrote: “Oh my lord in heaven. This is beyond sad and her life and death so emblematic of what the madness has come to. My heart goes out to her family and friends and all the glorious potential she had and symbolized.”

Mary Lou Butler, an administrative assistant to a fire chief in South Kingstown, Rhode Ilsand, wrote:
“I can't help but think that maybe she would have been a future politician to help heal the world. Born on 9/11, just elected to student council...”

We should have done more to protect Christina Taylor Green than we should. Not just because we as a society to be a moral people should do everything we can to protect the lives of our children, but also because we don’t know what she would have contributed to us.

Some people reading this post will argue that nothing could be done, that her murder was a unpreventable act of senseless violence, a tragedy beyond our control. Without arguing that point, but not conceding that assertion, every day we leave at risk the lives of our country’s children.

Take for example Christina’s state of Arizona.

As just one example, in Arizona today, there are more children at this moment of time than ever before who are homeless, many of whom simply thrown out by parents who no longer want to care for them in hard economic times, or did not care in the first place anyway. According to a recent story in the Arizona Republic, more than 24,500 Arizona students were homeless during the past school year. That number is double what it was in 2003, and also some 18% higher than what it was last year.

We know virtually nothing of a single one of these children, who remain largely nameless and invisible to us. If anyone is really outraged about the murder of Christina Taylor Green, there is absolutely nothing to stop them from helping these children. If they want to honor her or her memory, they should. And one way to do it is simply go down to one of the shelters where these kids hang out, say some kind words, ask what they might do for do them, and become involved in their lives in some small way that may even save their lives. Those with means should even consider taking one of them into their own homes.

As a writer, I have seen first hand how this country has allowed too many of its children and young people to be forgotten, unknown, unsafe, and left to die. A couple of years ago I wrote a story about a young Iraqi war veteran who came safely home from war only to be killed violently for wearing a Red Sox jersey in a Texas bar. When I went to watch a stick ball tournament held in a park named in his honor, I learned that several of his friends who he had played with in that same park as a child had died as a result of violence. Those kids died in part because they were marginalized by our society.

One of the first stories I ever covered as a reporter was about the deaths of dozens of mentally retarded children because of abuse and neglect while they were wards of the District of Columbia government. Dozens and dozens of these children died over two decades as the local government, the local news media, law enforcement agencies, medical agencies which were supposed to oversee their care, failed in their responsibilities and did nothing.

Those particular children died because they were marginalized. They were African-African, they were mostly from impoverished and poor families, and they were mentally retarded. They died because we value some human life, including that of some children, over others.

Christina Taylor Green came from a loving, devoted, well to do family; she had a famous grandfather; and she had advantages most children do not have and may never have in their lifetimes.

What do I take away from her killing? Every American child is now at the margins.