There have been a lot of frightening things happening in the world the past few weeks. Recent events like those in Beirut, Paris, Mali, and the ongoing situation in Syria all weigh heavy on my heart. They cause me to worry about what the future will bring for my children. It also makes me wonder what, if anything, I should tell them about the harsh stories in the news.
One recent afternoon I was out running errands with my oldest son, and checked my phone after pulling into a parking space. I saw a news alert that the number of dead from a horrifying attack had just been raised. Without thinking about it, an “OH NO!” escaped my lips. Then I sat in stunned silence, overwhelmed with worry about the state of our broken world. The world my children will inherit.
From the backseat I heard a small, concerned voice. “What is it, Mommy?”
I had a choice to make. Part of me wanted him to stay innocent and pure. To keep believing in the goodness of his fellow human beings. The other part of me wanted him to know that there is evil out there and he must be on guard against it. Should I keep protecting him from the harsh realities of this world we live in, or is he old enough to understand?
I took a deep breath, and began speaking with a shaky voice, “There were some angry men who wanted to hurt others. They had some bombs and guns and attacked a lot of people. Some people were killed. But it’s over now.” Then I began to cry as I tried to choke out the words, “I am just really sad, because it was worse than I thought. And because I just don’t understand how people could do something like that, how they could hurt other people…”
I was unable to finish, and sat in the car silently weeping. I wept for this planet, and for the people who live on it. I wept for Paris, and Syria, and far too many other places that have been torn apart by violence. I wept for the wounded, the dead, and for the families left behind. I wept for my own fears, and my own children. I wept for the children of the world and for the possibly violent legacy that they would inherit from the generations that came before them.
Suddenly I felt a small hand touch my shoulder. Looking behind me, I saw the concerned, compassionate eyes of my son gazing into mine. They were filled with love and sorrow, and had the slightest hint of tears. His lower lip quivered just a bit as he looked at me, and then he gripped my shoulder even more tightly. In that moment I was overcome by a whole new set of emotions, and felt incredibly proud to be the mother of such a remarkable young man.
I got out of the car and pulled him into my arms for a hug. “Thank you!” I exclaimed, now crying happy tears. “I LOVE your HUGE heart!”
I took his hand in mine as we walked into the store. I told him that he didn’t have to live his life in fear, because the chances of something like that happening where we live were very slim.
Even as I said it I WANTED those words to be true. Would we ever face such terror, such evil, in our own city?
I then continued, “Even though our world can be a scary place, you can help make it better. You have a choice of what you put into the world and how you will affect it. If you act in anger and cruelty that has a way of multiplying. People get angry, and so they lash out and want to hurt others. It’s an endless cycle. But if you do something good that makes others feel good, then they also want to to do something to help others. The good keeps growing and creating more good things. So if you keep doing what you can to make the world a better place, if you keep sharing love and living in a spirit of peace, then at least in your corner of the world the bad people don’t win.”
He smiled, and we walked on in silence hand in hand. I wondered how much I had frightened him, and much he understood.
Days later I asked him what he remembered about our conversation. He replied, “I was sad that you were sad, and scared that there were terrorists doing bad things. But you told me to make sure I did good things and not bad, because that can influence other people. And that makes the world better.”
Sounds good to me.
Yes, I still worry about the future my children will inherit, but they can change this world. The future is in THEIR hands, and I know that the hands of my precious child are gentle and loving. Those hands choose to help and not to hurt. They choose to reach out to others, grip their shoulders, and show them that they care. And that gives me hope.
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