The Kids in the Car
Rosh Hashana 1995
by Rabbi Edward Feinstein
Let me tell you the story of an American tragedy: On a June evening, this year, Ramtin Shaolian, 16-year Taft High student and four friends went the movies in Fallbrook Mall. They were rowdy and got themselves thrown out of the theater, so they took a walk around the mall. There came a car, a Ford Escort, with four girls, from neighborhoods south of the Boulevard, and two 19-year-olds they had picked up in Van Nuys. One Tommy Williams, who goes by Ace Capone, and one Elliot Singletary, who goes by the name Chocolate. According to police, when Singletary asked Ramtin for his gang affiliation, the boy scoffed, "Do we look like gangbangers?" Moments later the Escort circled back with Williams offering a reply: "Not gang-bangers, huh? Well, you're gangbangers now!" Then, police say, he fired eight to ten shots, killing Ramtin, and wounding one other boy.
This is not South Central, this is Fallbrook Mall, 15 minutes from here. And these are not strangers. Ramtin was Jewish. And at least two of the girls in the car, including the driver, come from Jewish families.
I have nightmares about these kids.
I understand Ramtin. I have the deepest sympathies for his family, his friends, and his community. I can't imagine the pain his parents have experienced. But I recognize him. At that age, we were all wise-guys. Out with friends, mouthing off to impress one another and to impress girls. But this, like so many other things that once were "normal" for adolescents, this will get you killed today. That's what new in the 90's.
What's ironic is that we were the impossible generation. We rebelled against our parents, against their values, against their institutions. We rejected their materialism, their conformity, the artificiality of their lives, their plastic joys. Most of all, we rejected their wisdom, their authority, the possibility that they could teach us anything about life. We put our faith in a youth culture -- a youth revolution -- that promised a freer, more authentic self and a more loving society, the "greening" of America. "Don't trust anyone over 30."
I'm sure it gives our parents a certain amount of gratification to hear us complain, now that our kids have reached adolescence. Things we never thought we'd hear our lips say...about loud, obnoxious music, about the way they talk, about why they have no respect..."You're not going out of the house dressed like that, with whom?!" I see that knowing smile on my mother and father's faces.
Listen Mom: I'm not complaining. True, I don't like their music, or their choice of icons. I don't understand why they need green or pink hair. I don't get the beauty of body piercing and tattoos. I'm not complaining. I'm terrified.
We rebelled. We overturned values. We experimented with drugs, we pushed the limits with sex, we broke the rules. And people got hurt. Today, kids die. There's no room to make a mistake. A lapse in judgment, an indulgence, a mistaken experiment, brings not parental disapproval as it once did, a session with the Vice Principal, or a soiled reputation. It brings death. Wake up little Suzy, indeed. Today, drugs kill, alcohol kills, sex kills, and all that violence. Does a night go by in this city when some kid isn't murdered at a party, in the mall? Does a day go by when a kid isn't assaulted at school? We're terrified. I know Ramtin. All of us with children know him. Ramtin is the name of our vulnerability, our fear, our panic as parents.
And I know the killers. At least on an intellectual level.
Ace Capone and Chocolate are the end products of our greatest social failure -- America's permanent underclass -- caught in a sticky, inescapable web of abuse, teen pregnancy, absent parents, alcohol and drugs, gangs, and ever-present violence. We'll hear the story when the trial begins, and it will be familiar: About a young girl, abused by an alcoholic mother and raped by her mother's boyfriend, goes out and gets pregnant at age 15, because having a baby gives her someone to love, and someone who will love her unconditionally. By age 18, having long ago dropped out of school, she has three children by three different men, none of who stuck around for the birth, much less the responsibilities of fatherhood. When the pressures of raising children and making ends meet on a declining welfare check are too much, she begins to drink. The latest boyfriend who moves in with her, beats her up in drunken rage, and throws the children out of the house. The oldest kid grows up. And as he reaches adolescence, the only place he finds a sense of belonging is in the gang. The gang makes him feel like he has a place in the world, like he is somebody. He robs and deals drugs for spending cash. He knows he has no future, no escape. The high of some cheap crack, a good fight, and a young girl's willingness, is all he lives for. And respect. The one thing he lives for is the one thing he can't ever find in this world --except with a gun in his hand -- is respect. He'll kill you if you "dis" him, if you show disrespect. Disrespect is his anathema.
In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a professor at Harvard, called the erosion of the Black family the greatest social problem of the last half of the century. He was excoriated as a racist. Today, the homicide rate for black males, age 15 to 19 is eight times greater than for white males. The rate for Latino males is six times greater than for whites. Socio-pathology on this scale is a multi-generational project: Raise a couple generations of kids in a world without family, without values, without hope, without a future, a world where violence, abuse, fear, anger and loneliness are constant, where the only way out is through drugs, alcohol, or the rush of a fight. I understand them. Ace Capone and Chocolate are the names of our failures as a society.
What I don't understand are the girls in the car. Why are girls from nice homes in good neighborhoods doing riding around with gangbangers? What's the attraction? Is this just a thrill ride gone wrong, or does it represent something deeper and more disturbing?
Take any index of the behavior of American youth, and you will find a precipitous rise in the most self-destructive behaviors, and a complete loss of morality. From cheating in school and shoplifting, to smoking, drug and alcohol use, sexual harassment, promiscuous and unprotected sexual escapades, to the most shocking violence, there is a marked rise of self-destructive and anti-social behavior, on the one hand and, a complete lack of remorse, on the other. There's simply no recognition that they've done anything wrong.
Homicide rates for kids 15-19 doubled between 1986 and 1991. Murder is the leading cause of death for urban kids age 15-19. On any school day, according to a national school based survey, more than one in four students in grades 9-12, is carrying a weapon.
"The whole spectrum of what is normal for adolescents," writes University of Chicago psychologist, Dr. Michal Czekczekhali, "is moving in the direction of the socially pathological."
What's happened to this generation? How did we end up with a generation without conscience, without morals?
Do you remember the film "Big"? -- Tom Hanks' first big hit, about a 13-year old who wishes with all his might to be, big. He confesses this wish to one of these fortune-telling machines at a carnival. Magically, the next morning, he wakes up 35-years old. There's something prophetic about that film and its image of 13-year old thrust into the world of adulthood, unready, unprotected, to make a go of it all alone. Being a kid has changed in our culture. In many ways, and for many kids, there's no such thing as "being a kid" anymore. Adolescence has dissolved. Physiologically, the child goes through puberty -- the body changes, the brain develops. But "adolescence" is a cultural construction --"adolescence" means a time when an individual can work out the difficult issues of identity, independence, sexuality, peer relations, shielded from forces that interfere or distort the growth of personality. Because the personality isn't fully developed, because judgment, rationality, and self-restraint aren't fully developed, the kid is protected, allowed to be "just a kid".
But no longer. Today, ready or not, problems that most adults can't handle are dumped on our kids. Listen to one 17-year old: "teenagers have tough lives. Most of the time they hide it, but there are so many pressures. I have helped two of my friends stop doing drugs. I have convinced one of my friends not to commit suicide. There are so many things to worry about. One of my friends was raped just walking home from a neighbor's house. Some of my friends have made a career out of shoplifting. My ex-boyfriend sold drugs. I have seen people go from straight A students to dropping out of school. I have a friend who at 16 had to get an abortion. I want to do more with my life. I wish there was a place that was free of all these problems, but problems are all around."
The irony of "Big" is that, just as the 13-year old is thrust unprepared into the world of the adults, the adult who appears before you is, in reality, just a 13-year old. The reason that the boundaries protecting children have dissolved is because the adult culture are still struggling with the same adolescent issues of independence, and sexuality, and identity. Kids aren't kids, because adults aren't adults. And kids have no sense of right and wrong, because the adult culture around them is amoral, nihilistic, and immature.
It is adults, after all, who have created a media culture built on the twin pillars of sexuality and violence. It's adults who have made Sharon Stone and Arnold Schwartenegger cultural icons. It's adults who have made the O.J. Simpson trial, with all its lurid violence and sexual intrigue, America's most absorbing soap opera. It's adults who sell cigarettes with cartoon characters, and alcohol with bikini-clad models and sports heroes, and toothpaste and deodorant and Calvin Klein clothes with sexual enticements.
Kids get trapped in the moral holes of the adult culture. Adolescent behavior only amplifies the destructive confusion, the ambivalence, of the culture at large. In other words, kids learn from their elders, but they learn the worst of us.
We've try to tell our children that sexual intimacy must always be tied to personal intimacy -- that sex is the expression of a deep bond of love, trust, responsibility and care. We've tried to tell them that they're ready neither for these kind of relationships, nor for the responsibilities of sexual behavior. We've tried. But the culture tells them, in the words of the Nike ad, "Just Do It". Coke says, "It's the Real Thing". And Microsoft says, "Start".
And so despite the threat of AIDS and other diseases, before their senior year in high school, half the girls and two-thirds of the boys in America are sexually active. And despite all the information available, a million teenage girls become pregnant each year, and the number is rising -- up more than 20% since 1986. According to CDC, 43% of American girls will become pregnant sometime during their teen years.
Don't call that deviant. Kids are not out of control. Kids are not slaves to their hormones. Without boundaries, they've simply absorbed the adult culture. The rates of teenage birth, unwed birth, abortions, sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS are identical to the rates among the adult population as a whole.
We've tried to tell our children that drinking is not substitute for happiness, that alcohol can be very dangerous. But the culture offers alcohol as a means to easy friendships, easy attractiveness, -- the high life. Ask your teenagers about the parties they go to. A study issued by the Surgeon General's office in 1991 showed that 8 million of the nation's 20.7 million youngsters in grades 7 through 12 drink alcoholic beverages every week. A half million admit to weekly "binges" meaning five or more drinks in a single sitting. "The use of alcohol," writes developmental psychologist Steven Small, Univ. Wisconsin(Newsweek), "is normative. By the upper grades, everyone is doing it." As one fifteen year old put it, "I was the perfect angel in grade school. I never planned to smoke or drink, but all of a sudden, alcohol was everywhere. Even the president of the Just Say No Club got loaded all the time."
We've told them that we expect them to succeed in school, because that's the road to career, to security, and happiness. But the culture teaches that "winning is everything". And as a culture, we take such delight in those who cut the corners, shave the edges. So you cheat a little bit. In 1969, 34% of kids admitted to cheating in school. In 1989, 78% admitted to cheating. 89% said that cheating was common in their schools. And when asked, is this wrong? There's no remorse. School is hard. Every teacher expects a lot. You cut corners to make the grades.
Because there are no boundaries, teenage irresponsibility mirrors adult moral irresolution. Except kids can't always handle it. And the stress of being a kid, without a fully developed sense of self, thrown into a confusing environment saturated with sex, and drinking, and the pressures of making it in a relentlessly competitive academic world, is too much for lots of kids. They're depressed. They act out. They fill the offices of therapists up and down Ventura Boulevard. And sometimes they fall apart altogether. The suicide rate for kids has quadrupled in the last 25 years. Every 78 seconds an adolescent in America attempts suicide. Every 90 minutes, one succeeds.
It's hardest on girls. Much harder than on boys. It's harder on girls because the culture is still so undecided about what it means to be a woman. About what it means to be a success as a woman. About where a woman finds her self worth. The culture is ambivalent: She can be aggressive, but not too aggressive. She can be independent, but not too independent. She should be sexy, but not overtly sexual.
Take one aspect of this: For all the accomplishments of feminism, women are still judged, and still judge themselves, on the basis of appearance. I like to cook. So while I'm waiting in the checkout line at Ralph's I look through women's magazine -- Redbook, Ladies Home Journal, and the others to find recipes. It's remarkable to me how many articles are about appearance -- diet, make-up, skin care, fashion. And in particular, all the new and creative ways to torture your body into someone's idea of attractive -- 18 new ways to starve yourself into a bathing suit. Stand back and look at this objectively: Women are at war with their bodies. Do you know how many billions are spent each year on dieting?
And if this is true with women, with grown-ups, I begin to understand the agonies of being a teenage girl. In the midst of puberty, when the body is changing in every which way, and the emotions are strung out on hormones, someone convinces our daughters that their self-worth depends solely and exclusively on being thin and cute. Thin and cute. It no longer matters how intelligent, how creative, how original a girl is, all that matter is thin and cute. Like the models in the magazines, like the girls on Melrose Place. The self, in all its nuance and uniqueness is sacrificed on the alter of thin and cute. By age 13, one scholar reports, 53% of girls are unhappy with their bodies. 78% are unhappy with their bodies by age 18. One teen writes, "I hate mirrors. I can't stand my reflection, my face. I know I'm not ugly. There's something logical somewhere inside telling me I'm not ugly, but deep down in the pit of everything, I don't feel it. I feel ugly. I used to have fantasies about taking a razor and shaving off my face and when it grew back it would be perfect. No flaws. No points of interest. What a pitiful way to live, not having the ability to see beauty in myself. I'm trying. It just hurts though to never like what you see when you look at yourself, that's all."
"America," writes psychologist Mary Pipher, "is a girl-destroying place...Girls are trained to be less than who they really are."
Sex, drinking, drugs, cheating, violence, suicide. An absence of morality, of any moral reflection. And underneath it all, there is an emptiness. A sense of purposelessness. No passions for anything outside the self. A survey asked kids their top ten concerns about the future: To have a family, to have a career, to have friends, to have enough money. All worth ideals. But it isn't until number 10 that you find anything outside of the me and mine -- to seek peace in the world, to fight hunger, want, disease. The film KIDS is a vision of a generation without conscience. Easy sex, easy drugs, easy violence. And the meaninglessness, purposelessness of it all. At the very end of the film, the main character, Telly, a kid a 15-year-old whose only joy and passion in life is seducing and deflowering 13-year old girls, confesses his emptiness. "When you're young," he says, "nothing much matters."
The greatest failure of the adult culture -- our failure -- far more serious than offering kids alcohol and sex, is the failure to offer them a vision of life's purpose, a dream, an ideal, a mission. All that energy, and nothing to fight for. All that promise, and nothing to live for.
Who is supposed to teach these kids?
Well, families to begin with -- parents. You know what's happened to families in this generation. You know that half the kids in this country grow up in single-parent families, and you know the impossible pressures borne by the single parent. And you know how many parents just don't want to be parents. How many come to parenthood filled their own unresolved adolescent issues. They crave, in their adolescent child, a playmate, a confidant, a best friend. How many moms want to be popular? How many dads want to be cool?
But even in the very best of circumstances, parenting an adolescent is impossible. Here's this kid who wants, with all his might and will, to be independent. And I'm supposed to protect him. Once, it was my job as a parent to initiate this child into the culture. Now, desperately I'm trying to keep him out of the culture. I'm trying to teach restraint, delayed gratification, responsibility, respect, amidst MTV, "Mortal Kombat", and Robert Packwood. I'm supposed to filter out the dangerous elements of the culture, when I can't get him to clean up his room, put on a clean shirt, or comb his hair. And then, when he's hurt, he's sobbing in my arms like a baby. Go figure.
One friend of mine tells me that her 11-year old daughter announced, "You're stupid, and everything you say is stupid, and don't ask me any more questions!" Ann Landers asked her readers some time ago if they had it to do all over again, would they have children? 70% of the 10,000 respondents wrote that they would not. Raising kids in this culture is impossible. And can you imagine how difficult it is to be an immigrant parent -- to come from elsewhere, another cultural world, and try to raise American-born kids.
How about school? Schools have always taught the basic civic virtues. But if families in America are in trouble, schools are doubly troubled. Even under the best of circumstances, and with very few exceptions, schools don't teach morals. Curricula are "value-neutral". Teachers simply don't feel that they have the right to tell students anything about right and wrong. In the curricula commonly offered to kids at school, in drug education, sex education, courses in family living, the emphasis is typically on discovering your own values, on clarifying your values, on learning how to make your own decisions, but not on what's right and what's wrong. There is an emphasis on openness and tolerance --accepting the choices and values and life-styles of others -- but there is no sense that certain choices might be unacceptable. Instead of right and wrong, attention is placed on feelings and self-esteem. The question asked is not, Is it right?, but Are you comfortable with that decision? According to William Kilpatick, professor of education at Boston University, "the common feature [these curricula] share is the assumption that children can learn to make good moral decisions without bothering to acquire moral habits or strength of character." In one commonly used program of sex education, "at regular intervals, the authors remind their young readers, 'There is no right way or right age to have life experiences, only you can decide what is right.'"
What good it is to help kids clarify values, when they have no values! What good is it to teach kids to make decisions, when they have no ethical principles upon which to build? Not surprisingly, there is no evidence that these programs have any impact on teen sexual behavior. One study found that, while overall teen pregnancies declined 16% in the particular community during the school year, schools districts that offered this program saw an increase of 17%.
Now, you know what comes next. The preacher pulls out his Bible, and begins to pound -- first on the Bible and then on the congregation. That's right, my friends, we have trouble. Kids wild in the streets. Drinking, fighting, and all the rest, and what we need is a dose of old fashion discipline, respect, and family values! Amen. You've got trouble, right here in En-ci-no, and that starts with E and rhymes with D and that stands for dope, drunkenness, dropouts...and all the rest.
Why does that image come to mind? Because it's the Right, especially the Christian Right, that is obsessed with these problems. It is the Christian Right that correctly understands this as a moral problem. But the solutions offered by the Christian Right disturb me because underneath is a unspoken assumption, derived from the core of Christianity, that human beings, even children, are essentially evil. And most of all, the body. The body is Satan's work; the source of temptation, seduction, and sin. And the only way to elicit virtue is to crush the body. And the child who is so much more body than spirit, must be bent into submission. Strict discipline. Spare the rod and spoil the child. I don't believe that. Can't we have modesty without repression? Temperance without prohibition? Responsibility without authoritarianism? Can I set limits for my kids, teach them right and wrong, without crushing the child's spirit?
And as much as I dislike the Right, I also disagree with the other side, the humanists, the creators of these value-neutral schools, utterly p.c. but utterly devoid of moral instruction. Beneath this lies a Romantic notion that within each child is a tender, good soul, yearning to be freed from the corruptions of society. It was a very beautiful vision for Jean Jacques Rousseau, and Carl Rogers. But then, they never worked in a summer camp, they never taught 4th grade. Kids aren't naturally, essentially, sweet, good, kind, or gentle, any more than they are naturally evil, selfish or cruel.
Kids are kids. Not good by nature, not evil, but born with the capacity for both. And the freedom to choose. This is the essence of Judaism. There is something in the human being called character, Rambam called it lev. At birth it is all potential, openness. It is given into our hands to cultivate the child's character -- as parents and teachers, as grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends, as a community. It is our responsibility, our mitzvah, says Rambam to create the lev tov.
According to Maimonides, this is the entire point and project of the Jewish tradition -- all of it, rituals, beliefs, mythology. In his commentary to Pirke Avot, he writes, "If you examine all the mitzvot, the commandments, you will find that they all have one purpose:
She-ye-chazek lanu lev tov, u'milamdot u'margilot kochot ha-nefesh
to strength one's lev tov, and for the discipline and guidance and training and strengthening of character." And then he gives a long list of examples: "Thus the Torah forbids revenge, the bearing of a grudge..." Why? To weaken the force of anger and aggression. L'fne Seyva Ta-koom 'Before the aged you shall rise and honor the face of the elderly' in Leviticus, and Kabed et-avicha v'et imecha 'Honor your father and your mother' in Exodus, are intended", writes Rambam, "to do away with impertinence and to produce modesty."
Character, in Rambam's formulation is not the expression of some in-born moral genius. It is not mystical, but behavioral. And this is not mysterious. The quality of character is the product of habit. And habits are learned behaviors, acquired through constant practice and reiteration. Control of our impulses is a learned habit. Generosity is a learned habit. Compassion is a learned habit. Responsibility , fairness, civility, honesty are learned habits.
Conscience is not in-born, it is cultivated. Conscience is the product of our moral habits, not the other way around. It's not an intellectual commitment, a matter of understanding or reasoning. Lots of people know the right thing to do, but do otherwise. It's not a matter of feelings, of emotions. Lots of people feel bad about their actions, but do them anyway. And it's not a matter of self-esteem. According to Rambam, self-esteem is gained the old-fashioned way -- you earn it.
Morality is a matter of the will, and the will is governed by habit, and habits are acquired.
You don't begin with adolescence. You begin when they are very small. Child-rearing is a relatively short term project. Eighteen years. That's all. Eighteen years from birth until they move away to Stanford. If your child is three, you've got fifteen years. If your child is seven, you've got eleven years. If your child is Bat Mitzvah this year, you've got five years, and tzuris.
Fashioning character, teaches the Rambam, is an act of conscious construction. You need a strategy. You can't assume that by living a certain set of values, your kids will model those values. Because the culture produces too much static interference. And because the values that you think you are modeling, the values you think you are living aren't always visible to your kids. You are committed to certain causes, you work for certain charities, you contribute generously. But they don't see that. Your kids don't see what you do for Federation or JNF or City of Hope, or the Pediatric AIDS Foundation. The don't see you write the check. They don't understand the value of your check.
The first question is: What are your values? What are your moral passions? What is your mission in life? You've got to know your values. And you've got to make them visible. So here's your homework. (Every sermon comes with homework. I told you that when I came here.) Take these days of awe, the days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur and think about what this kid going to take to college? What values, what commitments, what passions? Make a list. I want you to make a list of the ten values you want this child to learn. Put them up on the refrigerator, and then ask yourself how, in the course of any week, you're going to convey these values.
Qualities of character are communicated by immersing children in an environment rich with symbols, rituals, and stories. Because they need to see and to hear and to touch your values. U'k'tavtem al mezuzot beitecha. Go home and read your home. Read the values that are visible in your home. Do you have a tzedaka box? Do you have Shabbat candles? Does your home -- the visible and the tangible environment in which you bring up your children -- does your home bespeak your deepest passions and purposes?
Does this sound contrived, artificial? Let me ask you something: When you eat fruits and vegetables, do you wash them first? Do you drink bottled water? Why? Because the environment is polluted, it is full of poisons you don't want to ingest. The moral environment in which we raise our children is also full of poison. America is toxic to its children. And if you don't consciously and consistently work to shape your children's values, then there are plenty others out there prepared to do so. Kids spend a whole lot more time in front of the TV than with their parents.
Ultimately, the object of Judaism is not just to have symbols, but to become a symbol. Judaism is an effort to take the given elements of human existence and raise them up to become symbols of the holy, until the person himself, the individual herself, becomes a symbol. It isn't enough to know Torah, the Hasidic tradition teaches, you must BE Torah.
What do we say to our children? As they begin adolescence, we tell them, you are a Bar Mitzvah, you are Bat Mitzvah. Everyone's favorite Jewish joke. It's so easy to make fun of: But amidst the acrylic invitation, the DJ with the hoola hoops and the ice sculpture of Shakeel O'Neil, in all the absurdity, there is something we commonly miss.
You don't "have a Bar or Bat Mitzvah". You aren't "Bar ". You don't even "celebrate a Bar or Bat Mitzvah". You become a Bar Mitzvah. You are a Bat Mitzvah. You are initiated into the moral passions of this people, and you become a symbol of this people's dreams and this people's struggle.
It's wonderful if you're an honor student in the finest school in town, but that's not our real concern. It's wonderful if you have athletic talents, artistic talents, dramatic abilities, but that's not our concern. And we certainly don't care if you're thin or cute. We don't care how much money you've got, or how much your parents have. We only care about one thing: What is the quality of your lev, of your character? Do you have rachmanut, compassion? Do you have hesed, kindness? Do you have hitlahavut, passion? Do you know these words? Do you know the vocabulary of Jewish moral passion? This is what it means to prepare for a Bar Mitzvah, a Bat Mitzvah. Haftorah? Speech? It's an initiation into the dreams of the Jewish people.
That's what our culture tries to say to a child. Bar Mitzvah, Bat Mitzvah, the son, the daughter of commandment. You are obligated. You are responsible. Something is asked of you. That's what it means to be an adult in our culture.
Amidst all the presents and gifts you're going to get on your Bar Mitzvah, your Bat Mitzvah, there is really only one thing of real value. We give you a sense of your life's purpose, of your mission in this world, of your reason to be. A purpose beyond yourself, beyond your parents and grandparents, a purpose whispered into the ears of your ancestors by the Creator of the Universe.
We wrap you in a tallis, as we wrap you in our love, to protect you from all the dangers of this world. And at the corners of your tallit there are these fringes, tzitziot, comprised of knots, that symbolize your responsibilities, your purpose. Wrap them around your fingers. Hold them between your eyes. Plant them within you.
Perhaps we can't protect you from the killers, and the drug dealers, and the molesters of this society. Perhaps, with all our efforts and our prayers and our hopes, we can't insure that you won't be a victim to the evils of this culture. But we're not going to let you become an accomplice. Maybe we can't always shield you, from their weapons, but we will not allow them to destroy your soul. We give you our most precious gift: a sense of the purpose of your life, the meaning of your life, the wisdom of your ancestors, and the vision of your people. May this protect you as you grow.
* This document, or any portion thereof, may not be reproduced without the written permission of the author.