Wednesday, October 14, 2009

armor

I think I was in the third grade the first time that I realized that my world wasn't fully comprised of butterflies and cinnamon. I knew that THE world had dangers and sadness. I had seen the starving children on TV. But I didn't know MY world was susceptible. Ignorance? Innocence? Gluttony? Ethnocentrism? Being an American? Probably a combination. But then the news broke that the US was embarking on the Gulf War. I remember sitting in the living room with my family and begging my parents to cancel their upcoming trip to Florida. I pictured bombs falling from the sky and soldiers on street corners like in the books I had read about World War II. Surely plane travel and a trip to sunny Florida were perilous activities in the war-torn country I was certain we were about to become.

But then life went on. Our favorite shows were still on TV. I didn't know anybody who died. We could still buy microwave popcorn and ice cream at the grocery store. I licked my wounds and moved forward. In time, the illusion of safety settled in around me once again, with only the slightest ding in its shiny varnish.

And that's how things went. I became so accustomed to that illusion of safety that eventually it felt like an armor. People were killed in Kosovo and the armor suffered another ding. Matthew Shepard was brutally murdered, there was genocide in Rwanda, and hundreds of thousands of people died from cancer: ding, ding, and ding. I got it. Terrible things happened in the world. I didn't feel invincible. I just felt safe.

I was living by myself for the first and only time in my life when two planes crashed into the world trade center. This time, there were no dings. The armor shattered. As the dust settled, I looked around and felt stupid. Ignorant. I never had any armor. Luck, maybe?

A little over a week ago, not far from where we live, a mother and daughter were picked at random and attacked in their home while they slept. Four teen boys with machetes and knives stabbed the mother to death and slit her daughter's throat. They say the little girl is going to live. I wonder what they mean by that.

I don't understand this world we live in. A world with apple cider and fall leaves. Where miracle babies are born and learn to smile and laugh and crawl. Where incredible people overcome incredible obstacles. Where we strive to save the forests, save the whales, save the ozone. A world with tulips and warm puppies and grandparents. A world of good. Beauty, love, peace, and harmony.

This world. With poverty and disease. Where we send our children to war. Where we get up in the morning and make our coffee, knowing full well that somewhere, right this instant, there is rape, torture, hunger, and worse. Where four bored teenagers break into a home and massacre a sleeping family.

I don't know how we piece these worlds together. I don't know how to build an armor around my children. How to make that armor real.

I'm not interested in illusions this time.

3 comments:

Adrienne said...

I have a lot of thoughts about this topic and I'll try to be brief... I think it is an important lesson for everyone to learn- that there is great, great sadness in this world. Sadness that slams you down, fucks you up and then sits on your chest and refuses to leave. I don't know if you can teach it, without living it, though. I think you have to be real with your children, you have to expose them to the world and what is out there, and at the same time show them an example of how to live a happy and full life in the midst of it all. You cannot let the vast and unfair tragedies in the world dictate how you live, how you feel. You can let them spur you to action, any action, and that's an invaluable lesson for your children.
And, when the sadness comes, whether it is a direct hit or a nearby casualty, you show them how it is okay to mourn, okay to feel it and then okay to let yourself start feeling the good things again, you have to balance them in. The happiness, excitement and wonder of all the greatness in our world. Like the miracle of their own existence.

Jilliane said...

Well said Adrienne.

Daryl said...

There are no guarantees of anything in this life ... all any of us can do is the best we can, we can teach love and respect to our children but also tell them never to talk to or take 'gifts' from strangers....