Russia, a way America could be
Popping out of my hotel this morning to go across for a Starbucks coffee, I saw the moms and dads all dressed up, gently guiding excited, even gleeful, children — mom’s hand wraps around her son’s hand, dad sets his hand lovingly shoulder of his little boy — a young man not so ready to be leaving home.
The Rockwellian illustration of familial happiness shows a marginally sad mom, her sole concern, 24/7 for five or six years, was now being shared with society. Father seems happy to have the few extra moments because it is not after work, it is not a weekend but a morning during the week — he has a different energy. The child is absolutely ecstatic because at this moment, like at few other times, she is the sun, the moon, the gravity and just center of a universe that had been constructed by her parents. Within the hour, that universe would rapidly expand and no longer would her position, sitting squarely in the middle, be guaranteed.
Little girls with white, bouncy bows on their heads and boys donning smart little-boy suits slide through a morning air, fresh with the fragrance of recently cut and arranged bouquets of flowers. September 1st is a holiday in Russia. Neither schools nor banks close but nevertheless, the greatest investment in the country’s future is being led to school for the first time: First-graders begin the rest of their learning lives on this day. Children all over Russia, for nearly four generations now, look forward to this very day with varying degrees of both fear and excitement. Life outside of the home, in society, begins now.
Russia is not a country that does community well, really. There is pretty much no civil society here. September 1st, however, is easily the sweetest day in Russia. It is the day when I genuinely would like to wrap my arms around the whole country and give it not a hug of support; but rather an embrace that will support me, that will make me feel better; maybe, I think, Russia will help me, an American, and then I can pass that off to my fellow countrymen.
Today isn’t the day when the offended and bitter Russia is in charge. Today, Russia is alive and abuzz with the squealing of gathering crowds of children. In all of their hopeful innocence, you wonder, could they be the ones to lay the foundation for something better?
Why do I want America to be more like Russia today? Because we don’t do this? We don’t send kids to school all “dolled up,” as my grandmother used to say, as one with a national purpose to validate the lives of all that came before them. We don’t celebrate the first day of first grade as if it were some grand national accomplishment. Why? Because it’s not really one; but what it says fluently is that the Russian nation, the Russian community, has managed to again raise another generation of children and is willfully sending them, for the most part, on a safe journey. A journey that just might be magical.
Setting aside all of what I know about Russian education, I say unequivocally: This day is beautiful moment. This day belongs to the Russian nation and it is a good one. We can surely learn something from Russia on this day.
Missing from this day is one very American thing, though. Guns. Not one person is talking about whether teachers should be armed. No one is worrying about a school shooting. Little children, who still sleep with stuffed animals at night, aren’t being taught how to “hide from the bad man with the gun.” Russian kids are just hoping to make it home without getting their nifty, little uniforms dirty.
Call me crazy but there is really something righteous about that. Something about that whispers to me that we, the United States of America, have lost our way.
We are failing the innocence of our children.