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PITTS: Of arms and the children

  • (KEVIN KRENECK / Tribune Media Services)

Jonylah Watkins died on a Tuesday.

She was with her father, who was sitting in a minivan in Chicago on the night of March 11 when someone opened fire. Doctors worked 17 hours trying to repair what a bullet had done to her body, but to no avail. She died the next morning. Her funeral was about two weeks ago. She was 6 months old.

Antonio Santiago was 7 months older when his mother put him in a stroller and took him for a walk in their Brunswick, Ga., neighborhood. Sherry West says they were accosted by two teenagers demanding money. She told them she didn't have any. West says they shot Antonio in the face and killed him. This happened two days after Jonylah's funeral.

An Associated Press reporter was on hand a day later as the boy's father tried to comfort his child's mother. “He's all right” Luis Santiago told her, smiling for her benefit. “He's potty training upstairs in heaven.”

Which is, of course, the very foundation of faith, the belief that even tragedy will work ultimately for the good, that in the end, the bitterest tears transmute to the greatest joy. That is, in essence, what is commemorated this Easter week. It marks the morning when, we Christians believe, a carpenter turned itinerant rabbi, overcame death itself, rolled a stone aside and walked out of his own tomb.

In the King James Bible, in the book of Matthew, the rabbi — Jesus — is quoted as saying, “Suffer little children and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

When I was a kid, that always confused me. I wondered why children were commanded to suffer. But, as later translations confirm, the word was used in its old English sense, meaning: to permit or allow. Let the children come to me, He is saying, for they are the essence of grace. Love the children.

Two thousand years later, a singer named Marvin Gaye turned that command into a stark plea: Save the children.

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