I’ve been trying to wrap my head around the news of the murder of Leiby Kletzky, the Brooklyn boy who never made it to the meeting spot he and his mom had agreed upon while he walked the seven blocks home from summer camp, alone, for the first time, earlier this week. I read the New York Times’ and New York Post’s coverage of the tragedy—complete with Leiby’s killer’s written confession— yesterday when I got to work, but then had to stop reading, shut it all down. I found myself feeling physically ill. Having just recently lived in Brooklyn (right alongside Hasidic communities like the one Leiby was a part of), and having recently become a mom myself, it all just felt unimaginable, and yet way too close to home.  

This kind of event—however rare, however unlikely— sends up ripples and waves of disturbance in all who encounter it, even from miles away. I felt horrified and sickened by what happened, and then—a quick transition-- angry, vengeful even. Working away at my desk, I wished suffering upon the killer. Really. Suffering. Nothing less. I indulged in brief but violent fantasies, thinking of what kind of suffering might suffice: solitary confinement with forcible, non-stop streamed footage of gruesome events projected onto a wall…. Scalping! Rip that f*cker’s face off... Wow: That came from my mind?

Those images did arise in my mind, and they made me feel better, briefly gave me a sense of justice or something. Gave me a sense of control over helplessness, distracted me from that quietly desperate feeling, from knowing that a child has been killed and that there’s nothing anyone can do about it now.

But those images, wielding their weapons and setting up camp in my mind, didn’t do anything about justice at all. They just made me a little bit more like the very thing I was so caught up in detesting.

I would rather feel helpless than violent. I would rather feel horrified than willingly invoke horror. And what makes me really, truly human is that I can make those distinctions. I can make a choice.

Interestingly, willingly returning to helplessness delivers us from it. My vengeful thoughts can’t do anything to change what’s happened in Brooklyn, and can’t bring about justice, but coming back to the present, to my reality, can bring some peace into the world. I was just about ready to up and buy a boy-sized bubble for my son yesterday: all bets are off, the boogeyman’s real. But that’s really not reasonable. Acknowledging my fear without being carried away by it, I can reflect on how I’ll teach Kaspar to listen to his gut and not worry about being nice, or polite, or quiet if he feels something is wrong. I will also hope and wish and pray that he never meets the boogeyman.

I can feel myself, as a mother, stepping into that grieving mother’s shoes, for a moment. And I grieve too, for her helping her son expand his orbit, taking the necessary precautions, and for the unimaginable happening anyway. Nobody’s fault. For the ground falling away beneath her. And for all of us, realizing there’s not really any solid ground—realizing that we all live here  together, with our children and our neighbors, and we can’t just lock ourselves away in our homes or our minds or our angry, vengeful thoughts. Instead we do our best, we live and we raise our children, and when we encounter horror—together, from near and far—we make the human choice to feel that groundlessness and yet refuse to fuel more harm, hatred or violence. Even in—especially in—our own hearts. We hug and kiss our children, and make a simple, sincere wish for peace in this world.

If somebody doesn't begin to provide some kind of harmony,
we will not be able to develop sanity in this world at all.

Somebody has to plant the seed so that sanity can happen on this earth.

-- Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche
07/15/2011 10:24

On my Tuesday morning run in Prospect Park, I passed one of the posters offering a reward for any information leading to finding Leiby Kletzky. Like everyone who's read this story, I was absolutely horrified on Wednesday when I found out what happened. I'm not a parent, therefore can only imagine the fear this sort of random tragedy causes. But I believe you're totally right. Hate does nothing but feed hate. We definitely need more sanity and peach in this world. It's good to be reminded of this.

07/15/2011 11:36

How surreal to have seen the posters in person. Sending love to Brooklyn as the community takes this in. There's been one uplifting element that I read in the news, which was a leader from withing Leiby's community commenting on how the entire community-- Jews and Gentiles alike-- mobilized to search for this little boy. It's comforting to think at least of people coming together in an effort to help.

Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Daughter Fish. And yes, more sanity and more *peach*. There is still fruit! ;-)

Miss you, lady. xo

07/15/2011 23:41

I just can't read these stories. They break me into pieces too.
You are right, someone needs to plant seeds of harmony or their will be no healing.

Erin O
07/16/2011 10:40

What a beautifully written post, Taylor. I read a commentary in which the boy's parents were being attacked for their decision to let their son walk home, and I just couldn't believe it. I understand that comes from a place of fear -- we can't wrap our minds around the horror that is someone who could torture and murder a child. So, if we could say the real mistake was something we could control (hence the feeling we all had of needing to buy our children a bubble), like letting your child walk home alone, then we could feel better. But what does this world become if we all give in to that fear? My husband and I wer just talking about how 30 years ago, we and all our friends would disappear every summer day from sunup to sundown and no one's parents knew where we were much of the time. There were no cell phones or GPS locator devices. Could one of us have encountered the boogeyman? Certainly. As you said, Taylor, the best hope is that we teach our children to be informed, to speak up when something doesn't feel right, and then we send them out into this great big world with hope and faith and love. And we also send as much love and peace into the world as possible with the hope that it returns to all of us.

08/01/2011 11:54

Thanks for your comments, Suzy and Erin. So heartfelt. <3

I heard from another mom, Brenda Zofrea (M.A.Ed., Author, Educator, Child Safety Specialist) via email who's developed a system for teaching young kids about strangers, safety measures and so on through books and toys. The program is called "Let's B Safe" and the materials are provided to schools free of charge (and can be purchased by parents on her website, here: http://letsbsafe.com/). Seems like a great way to get the conversation started with our kids, and take extra measures for their safety. Thanks for sharing, Brenda!

08/15/2011 12:06

Correction on my previous comment: The LET'S B SAFE Book and BE SAFE BEES were indeed provided free to 7,000 children in the Manatee County School District but that was because the community stepped up, felt it worthy enough and
raised the money needed to purchase/provide the books and bees free to children. The products aren't provided automatically free to schools, but Brenda can guide/help other school district's to replicate
community-supported LET'S B SAFE Programs.


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