Looking at my Facebook feed last night, I saw a lot of comments from people about the Boston Marathon bombing – prayers for the victims and their families, sadness, anger, frustration. It seemed my friends who are parents were the quickest to respond, often with questions about the future of a world where it seems there are more and more events like this every day. Shootings, bombings, stabbings, natural disasters. It’s frightening.
Is the world a safe place or not?
It’s a hard question to answer.
I think it becomes an even harder question when you become a parent. The world being safe for you is one thing. For your tiny, vulnerable little person – the person who you would do anything to protect – is the world safe for them? What kind of world will they grow up in? we ask.
I don’t want my kid to grow up in a world where every school has an armed police officer and a metal detector. I don’t want to be afraid of public places because of “what might happen.” I don’t want to teach him to be afraid of strangers. I don’t want him to grow up worrying, fearing the worst. I want his world to be full of sunshine and caterpillars, rainy days spent inside pouring over a good book and gathered around the dining room table with good food, family and friends.
Yet, at some point, we all step over the threshold. We all have a moment where we realize that the world is not safe.
For me, that question was answered the day my dad died. He was killed in an accident on our farm on a warm, sunny spring day. That day, my world shattered. Not just because I lost my father, but because I lost my innocence. Until then, the world had been a safe place. A predictable, steady place. After he died, it wasn’t. It would never be again. I’ve read that losing someone as a child is utterly different than losing a loved one as an adult because of the way it knocks your world off its axis. Suddenly, like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, you have tasted good and evil. Or if not evil, at least pain. And you realize it can strike anywhere, anytime.
This is not how I want Teddy to view the world. I want him to feel safe. I want him to talk to strangers. I want him to play in the yard, not worrying that someone will come and snatch him. I don’t want him to fear anything happening to the people he loves. I want him to be confident that the world is a good place, full of good people.
But in reality, both are true. The world is a beautiful place full of kind people, and it is a place of terrible, painful things. Someday, he will get a glimpse of it as it really is, and it will terrify him.
I think events like what happened yesterday in Boston shake us because they remind us of this duality. They remind us that one day, our children will bite that apple and see the world for what it is and be afraid. I never want that day to come, but it will and it must.
There is a tension in parenting, between wanting to protect and wanting to prepare. Unlike me, many parents don’t have the luxury of protection. Their children already know the reality of war, death, hunger or illness.
There are many more Facebook posts this morning about the heroism yesterday, quotes from Mr. Rodgers, thoughts about good people outnumbering the bad. These are all true. These good, true things help us understand tragedies, but they do not erase our pain and suffering. There will be more talk in the days to come, as there always is, about how to make sure that something like this “never happens again.” But it will. Perhaps not this thing, this way, but something will happen that will leave us wondering whether the world is good or bad, safe or dangerous.
So, today, I will pray for the injured. I will pray for the grieving. I will pray for those whose world was rocked off its axis yesterday, whether they were children or adults. When I feel afraid, I will take a deep breath and take a moment to try to understand this world, so full to the brim of beautiful things and also of very ugly ones. I will try to live in this tension as I parent my child, and even now, mourn the day when he will know what I know about the world, and pray that that day won’t come too soon.