Sunday, January 04, 2015


Throw a pebble into the ocean and it will make a ripple. Demi Lovato would have you believe that this ripple will become a wave. I am inclined to agree with Ms. Lovato, and not just because she has the power to limit traffic through Disneyland. There has been a lot of discussion lately about how every life matters. Those lives would be the pebbles to which I will refer to in this metaphor. The ocean is the rest of the world. It's a pretty tried and true idea, dating at least as far back as Charles Dickens, or George Bailey if you're a fan of Zuzu's petals. One person's life can make a huge difference in the big scheme of things.
This is what amazes me about the recent reporting of two deaths: A mother in Idaho and a teenager in Ohio. Part of what makes these potentially worldwide stories is the way media works. A story of small town tragedy can go global in minutes, thanks to Al Gore's Internet. Veronica Rutledge and Leelah Alcorn are now instantly recognized names because their sad ends made ripples. Ms. Rutledge was a mother of a two-year-old who left her child in the car with her purse that contained a loaded handgun. Immediately, her loss is the door opening on a debate that has raged for decades now, never mind the loss felt by her family. Never mind the rest of this two-year-old boy's life who will now be bent in a series of interesting ways because of this horrible accident. This is a chance to make political hay, and to toss parenting opinions and judgments into the stiff breeze stirred up by search words like "handgun" and "children." She joins a long list of other names, other pebbles: parents who made an awful choice that had even worse consequences. Would it be worse if somehow the two-year-old had been the victim? I don't want to make that distinction, but there are plenty of people out there with access to a keyboard who do.
Leelah Alcorn made an awful choice herself. She decided to kill herself after she felt that her parents would not be able to help her manage her transgender transition. She did this by stepping in front of a truck. The question of transgender teens has become a flashpoint, just as Leelah had hoped in her suicide note. A number of people, myself included, wondered about how all of this might sit with the driver of the truck. A gun is a pretty obvious tool for destruction. The country is not currently in the midst of a truck control debate. Now we can all discuss that along with the relative safety of Wal-Mart parking lots.
And families in Ohio and Idaho scramble to make human sense of the ripples.

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