Dear Reader: I’m sorry; I’ve never before published two posts on this blog in one day. I know you’re busy and have a lot of things coming at you. Really, who has the time? But this was something I had to write, for ME more than anybody else, so I’m just going to take a deep breath and put it out there. Then I promise you won’t hear from me for a couple of days!
The Boston Marathon bombing happened yesterday. I learned the news, as I usually do, when I logged onto my computer after a day spent running the girls around to various activities and saw the headline on my Google news feed. Then I opened my email and found two VERY BAD NEWS emails waiting in my inbox. As usual, there seems to have been a lot of BAD NEWS all at once. Lately I’ve felt like I’m barraged daily by the reality of senseless badness. People place bombs where they’re sure to kill and injure other innocent people. Cancer strikes beloved grandfathers and fathers of young children. People hurt babies. It feels like TOO MUCH.
That’s all I could come up with on Monday night: just a heavy, sad sigh.
I read everyone’s eloquent responses on Facebook: the prayers for Boston, the same old Fred Rogers quotes, the praise for those who ran towards the victims. All I could think was, Weren’t we JUST HERE? Yes, we were — back in December, after the Sandy Hook shootings. And I was living in Manhattan when 9/11 happened. And I was in school just down the street from the CIA — where my father worked — when, in 1993, two people were killed and three wounded when a man shot into their cars at a stoplight. Part of getting older, it seems, part of having lived three decades, is tragedy deja vu. First comes the stunning evidence of humanity’s capacity for darkness and destruction, followed by the stunning evidence of humanity’s capacity to cling to hope and sift through the rubble for meaning.
I’m SO TIRED of this cycle of tragedy and hope. Mind you, I don’t want my heart to stop breaking; I don’t want to get hard and bitter. But I’m worn out, fatigued. I don’t want to HAVE TO “look for the helpers” anymore. And when comedian Patton Oswalt writes in his viral Facebook post that “We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil,” I think, Gosh, I dunno about that.
I have a friend, a dear friend who loves children, who works with children, who is like MAGIC with children. And, the last time I discussed it with her, she had decided not to have kids because she didn’t want to subject any more children to this cruel world.
It’s a good point. It’s an honest point. I’ve written before that children are about HOPE — that word again — because we believe that our children just might get things right. But that’s a little selfish, isn’t it? My children give me hope, and I give them…senseless tragedy. We’re not telling our girls about the Boston bombings, but that same day they asked — begged — to check out the movie Bambi from the library. I was concerned about this; parts of Bambi are scary and sad — and not in a pretend-magic way, but in a real-life way. So I decided that the best thing I could do was to prepare them. “Okay,” I said, “But remember that Bambi’s mother gets killed by a hunter, and there’s a forest fire at the end.”
And that was just a movie; pretty soon, I’m going to have to do the same thing for them with LIFE. How can I prepare them for the cruel realities of life and still give them hope, when I’m so tired and the hits just keep on coming?
I don’t know if Patton Oswalt is right that humanity isn’t inherently evil; that’s a HUGE moral and spiritual claim to make. But here’s what I THINK I know: I think that humanity knows that we’re not supposed to be evil. I can’t say that my kids were all born evil, but they were certainly all born selfish — they’d cry and scream until they got what they wanted or needed, and as they grow they keep crying and screaming, with punches and kicks and pulled hair bestowed on their loved ones for emphasis. They do what they know is wrong, what they’ve been TOLD not to do — and that starts to look a lot like a capacity for evil.
But with each of my children, when they were still babies, there was a moment when I’d pick them up and they’d pat me on the back. I don’t think they really knew what they were doing, but they were mimicking what I’d been doing to comfort them; they were reaching out to connect with another person in a compassionate way. And just this week, for the very first time, my oldest child apologized to me after a nasty battle completely unprompted and on her own. Which is really the same as the back pat: recognition that we’re not meant to be evil, that we’re meant to TRY to do the hard work of reaching out in love. These moments may give me selfish hope, but they also give me unselfish hope — that my girls’ lives will be enriched and enrich the world as they struggle to NOT be evil, and as they see others doing the same.
Hope is hard work. Here’s what I know about hard work: two-thirds of my children were born without an epidural (this was not really for reasons of principle, unless by “principle” you mean “fear of having a needle stuck in my spine”). But in both of those labors, I reached a point where I was about to give up. This hurts TOO MUCH; I can’t do this anymore! Bring in the epidural! Make me numb! And BOTH TIMES (you’d think I’d learn), at the very moment when the anesthesiologist was walking through the door, the nurse would check me and say, “Oh, you’re ready to push!” Minutes later, my baby would be born.
So I think it’s usually when we reach the point of greatest fatigue, when we’re sure we can’t keep going, when it’s all TOO MUCH, when we just want to be numb — it’s then that hope can carry us forward one more breath, and beautiful things can be born. It’s okay if hope comes with a heavy, sad sigh — or when we’re crawling on bloodied knees — or even with a scream of rage. It’s okay to be tired, just so long as we don’t go numb.