My time living and working in Mexico has given me an appreciation for the celebrations of Halloween on October 31st, All Saints’ Day on November 1st, and the Day of the Dead (or Día de los Muertos) on November 1st through the 2nd.
To remember the dead and honor their joys and pleasures in life at the end of October, I often create an altar adorned with photos of my loved ones who have passed on, marigolds, and other beautiful things they enjoyed in life.
This year it’s different.
This year on the Día de los Muertos, I want to honor thousands of unknown and uncelebrated dead.
Just as our children will mask up tonight to disguise themselves, our ignorance and apathy disguise some frightening statistics of an epidemic of preventable deaths in our country.
Recently my spouse and I travelled to Lake Tahoe for a business meeting in Incline Village, Nevada. We traveled up the beautiful Mount Rose Highway that leaves the Great Basin—where we live—up into the Eastern Sierras. It was a beautiful and crisp autumn day with the aspens turning brilliant yellow and the clear, cold air pungent with the scent of the pines.
As we climbed up into the Sierras, a news report about child abuse broke our hearts wide open just as we crested the mountains and saw the brilliant blue of Lake Tahoe before us.
“Every five hours, a child is beaten to death or dies of neglect in the United States,” we heard on NPR. The report was based on a recent BBC report entitled, America’s Child Death Shame.
We were shaken and shocked, so I decided to explore this issue.
According to the National Children’s Alliance, five children die of abuse and neglect every day in the United States. These are the reported cases; many more may never be reported or acknowledged.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, infants under age 1 suffered the highest rate of victimization and death in 2009. Fatalities were also high that year for children younger than age 4, according to the agency, with girls suffering more acts of violence than boys.
A majority of these children weren’t killed by a stranger—these children actually met their deaths at the hand of a parent or relative, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
This information is sadly reflective of our values and our society. These reports are about us. There is no one outside “us” to blame—no other group, no different ethnicity or nationality.
People behave in ways the system supports and, from a systems perspective, our society is supporting the deaths of our most vulnerable—our infants and children.
While debate over the raising or cutting of taxes rules the U.S. Congress, our children are being murdered. While right-to-life, anti-abortion activists are putting legislation on ballots in Georgia and Mississippi that demands that civil liberties begin for fetuses from the moment of conception, I find myself asking, What about our little ones who have already been born—the ones being beaten or starved to death or abused in so many different ways? What about the five children we will kill today?
We have disguised what is going on by focusing exclusively on economic issues that are difficult to fix. From Congress to the Occupy Wall Street movement, we are obsessed with the declining economic state of our country. We have our masks over our eyes while we neglect our values of caring for all our citizens.
Preventing the death of our children is possible with the right systems’ protections and preventions as well as with safety nets for families and children in grave distress. It is up to us. These are our children.
This year, my altar will have a candle burning for these children from Halloween through el Día de los Muertos. And my heart will be breaking.