Let them in, Peter.
They are very tired.
Give them couches where
! the angels sleep,
and light those fires.
Let them wake whole again.
It's a brand new dawn,
Fired by the sun, not
+ wartime's bloody guns . . .
AS I drove home from school Monday afternoon, these lyrics filled my car. They're from "Let Them In," a song based on a poem found in a hospital in the Philippines during World War II.
Making my way south from Druid Hill Park, I heard gunfire. Seconds later, I turned onto North Avenue in the aftermath of a murder. A passerby said the victim was in his early 20s. As I glimpsed the body, the music on my car radio seemed to get louder:
May their peace be deep,
Remember where the broken bodies lie;
God knows how young they were to have to die.
God knows how young they were . . .
I teach middle school in Baltimore City. Every day, the plight of inner-city youth is painfully apparent. In this school year, my first in Baltimore and my first in teaching, three children from William H. Lemmel Middle School have been killed. The first words from one of my students Monday were to tell me that a classmate would not be in school because her younger brother had been wounded in a drive-by shooting.
This is reality. This is the Hobbesian war of "each against all." This is America. This is Baltimore.
I am a 23-year-old first-year teacher. I drive to work each morning hoping -- praying -- that my students will be better people, children with more hope for the future and more concern for the present. In the long run, though, I will have learned more from them than they from me.
There have been countless opportunities for legislation controlling guns. We are finally crawling in that direction. Yet Baltimore's "Bring in the Guns" campaign was hardly a success. Our children will claim steadfastly that guns exist for protection. After all, it was on the basis of protection that Americans were constitutionally permitted to bear arms.
But there is more to it than protection. To "carry a piece" in the city is to have power, and to have power is to be "hard." This is the language of our youth, and it screams of the injustices that we adults are committing. A later verse from "Let Them In":
So give them things they like,
Let them make some noise . . .
And let them love, Peter,
For they've had no time.
I= They should have trees and bird songs and hills to climb.
It is time we heard the cries of urban youth. Theirs is not a world peace. It is a world of war, and it rages in Baltimore. We're not going to end it with a magic potion. We'll end it over a long time. The effort requires the gradual changing of minds, the individual realization of values. It requires redistribution of state school aid so that Baltimore isn't cheated. It requires the transformation of schools from factories to academic villages. It requires our interest in children's self-esteem. The bottom line is concern, simple heartfelt compassion.
If we end this war, our children won't need guns, only their minds. My song ends with this verse:
And tell them how they are missed,
But say not to fear.
It's gonna be all right
With us down here.
# Let them in, Peter.
Edward Spaniel Jr. is a Teach for America corps member.