"If a child lives with acceptance and friendship, he learns to find love in the world."
Quote by Dorothy Law Nolte
It's been three years since the tragic death of New Jersey's Little Baby Zara. I still love her.
While commuting from Point Pleasant to my office in Jersey City on February 18th, 2010 there was no option except to get sick to my stomach as I approached the Alfred E. Driscoll Bridge. Unfortunately, the old Garden State Parkway toll booth offices in Sayreville were re-opened for business that day and they had to remain open until April 24th.
The brick building was surrounded by twenty black detective cars with tinted windows and a large NJ State Police Mobile Crime Unit Lab. A blinking alert sign asking the public to call if we had any information was illuminated overhead. It was ominous.
The grim task in front of the selfless heroes inside that facility was to plan out the strategy to locate the tiny lifeless body of a three-month old baby girl who suffered murder-by-drowning in the frigid waters of the Raritan River at the hands of her father.
Who could believe that he stuffed this poor innocent baby in a sleeping bag and tossed her over the railing like trash on February 16th?
Police say 21-year-old Galloway Township resident who was sentenced to life in prison in 2012, threw his daughter Zara Malani-Lin Abdur-Raheem off that bridge after the attempted murder of the child's maternal grandmother whom police say he assaulted in East Orange during the kidnapping. This brave grandmother was caring for her precious granddaughter.
At the time of the abduction, the baby's mother was in a courtroom in Newark, NJ applying for a restraining order against Mr. Abdur-Raheem.
For two months every time my car scaled this bridge, I silently prayed the mighty waters would give Zara up and sweep her home to her mother's arms. Two months later, God answered that prayer.
Over the last 30 years, I've embraced the broken bodies and injured spirits of women and children who have survived the scourge of brutal domestic abuse and violence. I know - from personal experience - that it is beyond stressful and beyond all civilized experiences to have to watch people you love endure these kinds of horrific circumstances.
The painful long-term consequences that often play-out all the days these victims live is enough to numb your heart.
It takes remarkable courage and resolve to place yourself square-in-the-middle of such danger during any attempt to ensure the survival of helpless children who cannot save themselves from abuse and harm in these corridors-of-darkness.
Like Baby Zara's grandmother, my own mother lived the tenets of this kind of courage dedicated to grandchildren. I revere strong adults in families who step up to protect kids when God calls on them to do so because these efforts in His name make a difference every single day.
The grandmother mantra is simple, "If children live with security, they learn to have faith" in themselves and in those around them - which gives each child an unyielding strength, a confidence and a shot at happiness that has no bounds.
Baby Zara's death was a haunting reminder that too many enchanting children are left dangling and frightened from all kinds of dangerous bridges by the same people who gave them life.
When adults in emotional high-drama, high-stake (or low-stake) situations fail to operate, act, or comport themselves in a manner that puts the best interest of their children at the forefront of their thinking, the children lose. There are no winners.
For the record, these abhorrent situations laced with rage and revenge don't do anything healthy for anyone. Everyone with a view experiences mountains of sorrow that can literally eat their insides out.
Do you really think Mr. Shamsid-Din Abdur-Raheem cared about what Baby Zara's mother, grandmother and other relatives would experience for the rest of their lives after he killed her?
Unfortunately - people who can harm their own kids aren't capable of caring about the damage their actions do to others.
The chances of kids being emotionally injured by the scars inflicted by parental behavior during these difficult and dreadful situations go up exponentially when hatred, disdain and/or a lack of maturity rules everyday, every encounter and every special occasion.
How come so many people "use their own children" for personal gain, to one-up this or that?
Why do moms and dads use kids to get back at partners and/or other adults involved in these loops of madness that encompass everything from divorce, busted dreams, infidelities, death, financial failures, family court decisions, substance abuse, disappointments, unemployment, abuse and beyond?
The next chapter has to come, so why doesn't everyone just close the last chapter sooner if doing so would mean granddaughters like Baby Zara could actually live to celebrate their third birthdays?
Children see everything through the eyes of their parents, so why doesn't everyone wake up and grow up especially since it's no secret that "Children Learn What They Live?"
Kids sometimes die in these circumstances; others are left to fend for themselves and resort to self-medicating solutions to block out the pain for the rest of their lives; the weakest ones give up on everyone and everything.
"If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight," so isn't that reason enough to stop fighting ten years after some divorce or falling out?
Is it really that hard to recognize that this chapter of your life isn't about you anymore? Have you forgotten that you're actually the adult responsible for the health, welfare and safety of your own children?
My prayer for Baby Zara Malani-Lin Abdur has always been that God arrived armed with love and caught her before she hit the water; and that she found comfort in His mighty arms as He swaddled her with His grace.
When this baby cried out from the bottom of the Raritan River, it was clear to me that all adults could learn "something important" if we viewed our own lives and actions - for just these few moments - through the beautiful prism and innocence of Baby Zara's big brown eyes.