What I Teach My Children About The Illusion of Security

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They might have guns but we have flowers.

Ever since the tragic events in Paris last Friday, my mind has been tempest tossed. Coming immediately on the heels of the deadliest bombing in Beirut in 25 years, the senseless murder of innocent civilians in the City of Light was a tough blow, the second poignant lesson in the fragility of life in two days. It seems I can’t sift through the news anymore without reading about another heinous act. While I know that countless acts of murder, rape, and violence have been perpetrated for as long as humans have existed, the constant barrage of stories about the dark side of humanity elucidated by the news media over the Internet and forwarded around the globe via social media can take a toll on even the most hopeful souls.

As a mother, I have struggled with what to share with my sons about these events and what example to set for them with my words about them. When they were younger, I cautiously shielded them from gratuitous details about natural disasters, shootings, and suicide bombings, proffering just enough information to make them aware but not enough to cause them sleepless nights. Parenting is a non-stop balancing act, and I regularly walk the high wire between too much information and not enough. Our sons are 12 and 14 now, plenty old enough to be aware of world events and form opinions about them. At school they watch news clips from CNN, an education I am grateful for because it provides an opportunity for open discourse at home about the world. I welcome the invitation to engage with our sons and answer questions and concerns as they arise. I like to think that in doing so my husband and I are raising informed, thinking, and engaged citizens of the world.

Today, during my daily run through of my social media news feeds, I read that governors of 27 states have declared they will not welcome Syrian refugees due to security concerns after the Paris attacks. I scratched my head. Regardless of the fact that states do not have the right to refuse refugees our federal government chooses to accept, I marvel at the naiveté of leaders who presume that refusing refugees is the surest way to keep their citizens safe. But many people in this country harbor the illusion that security is an entity we can guarantee and enforce because, well, we’re the United States of America, dammit. But we can’t. We never have been able to and we never will be. We can’t stop bad things from happening. Bad things are as certain as the sunrise, and security is merely an illusion we cling to as a means to mitigate our fears.

I live in Colorado, one of only seven states that has said it will welcome refugees displaced by the atrocities in Syria, which have left over 250,000 civilians dead and nearly half of its population of 22 million seeking a safe haven elsewhere. While many are against this, I am pleased with our governor’s proclamation. I don’t believe that turning away victims of terrorism will keep us any safer than we are now. Could an ISIS sympathizer be among the refugees who end up in Colorado? Probably. There have already been arrests of suspected ISIS militants and supporters in the US, and there is no reason to imagine we will be able to stop more from seeking to harm us if that is what they intend. Even our best attempts at national security will leave unexpected holes for terrorists to slip through. We are not capable of squelching every plot. We didn’t foresee the attack on Pearl Harbor or the attacks of 9/11. Is that a reason to turn away hundreds of innocents who are displaced and suffering, seeking a better, safer place for their family? I don’t think so. I like to think that we are a better nation than that.

The truth is that life is tenuous and fraught with peril, and there is little to nothing we can do about it. This is what I tell my sons daily. You could lose your life to a terrorist suicide bomber in a crowded cafe or to a mentally disturbed individual in a movie theater, to a drunk driver on their way home or to an incurable cancer. You could be the healthiest person out there and keel over from a heart attack. You can do everything right, take all the proper precautions, but you will still fall someday. Not one of us is getting out of this life alive, and we can’t guarantee that security to our children either. But the legacy we leave with our actions can and will make a difference in the lives of others. I would like my children to witness from me love, generosity, and bravery in the face of life’s sometimes scary realities rather than fear, isolationism, and cowardice disguised as protectionism. I would rather my sons learn to take a calculated risk for the sake of goodness than to shun others for an imagined sense of security.

Right after I read that article about the governors unwilling to welcome refugees, I found this video of a Parisian father and his young son being interviewed at the site of the Bataclan attacks where citizens were gathering to leave flowers and light candles in memory of the lives lost there. The father tells his son that there are bad people everywhere and that the flowers and candles being placed are there to protect him. I won’t lie. I get weepy every time I replay that video, and I have watched it at least a dozen times already. In the most beautiful way possible, this father is teaching his son that bad things happen but we don’t need to fear them. We need to accept them, focus on the good we can do, and go on with our lives. If we operate from a place of peace and love and hope, we are freer from fear than if we barricade ourselves in to hide from it. Fear can become an inescapable prison or our impetus to live in the present.

I showed my sons the video of that father because it speaks more eloquently about security than anything I’ve seen on the Internet since the attacks on Beirut and Paris. I’ve felt my heart shrivel as I scanned comments from friends about why we should not open our nation and our hearts to those who seek peace because we might regret it. While I understand their concerns, I can’t believe that this is what we have come to. We citizens of the United States forget how fortunate we are to be here and the sacrifices made by previous citizens that afforded us the luxury of birthright and the illusion of security. We forget that most of our ancestors arrived on these shores disillusioned, frightened, and clinging to hope promised by a lady standing in a harbor, the same feelings the Syrian refugees now hold. My husband and I are supporting our governor as he opens the doors to our incredible state. We are talking to our sons and teaching them that the inscription on Lady Liberty does not have caveats. It’s not “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore but only if they aren’t coming from a war torn Middle Eastern country or from a south-of-the-border neighbor with drug problems because we don’t want any of THOSE.” We are telling them that life is scary. Bad things do happen. But the more good we put out into the world and the more we focus on that, the better things will become. My silent parental prayer today and every day is that our sons will grow to love this world despite the negatives and to live boldly in it without fear for as many days as they have.

7 comments

  1. Oh Justine. This is so lovely. Thank you for showing us how it’s done. All of it — the thinking, the compassion, the empathy, the writing, the parenting…just all of it. So grateful for you and this piece (which I’ve shared). xxoo Martha

  2. Yes, I commented inside the post. Yes, I shared it with my FB friends. But just had to tell you in every way possible that I LOVED this piece. You should send it in to Huffington Post. Tonight. Like, right this very minute. Sorry I can’t tell you how to do that, but I want to you figure it out. (Then you can tell me how do it if I ever have a piece this good.) At a minimum send it into the Denver Post or the Washington Post or any of those bigger names.

    Keep me posted. This NEEDS to be circulated! PLEASE!!!!

    xxoo M.

    1. You are too kind, Martha. I will admit it was with trepidation that I posted this, but I couldn’t keep silent any longer. We do our children a disservice if we teach them that providing refuge to the weary is ill advised. It amazes me how many “religious” people I know who are willing to turn their backs on the downtrodden. It boggles my mind.

  3. Americans must not be afraid to express their opinions, a guaranteed right under the Constitution. I disagree with those that would turn away emigrants in desperate need of shelter. This is America, and I will give my very life if necessary to defend liberty. If refugees come to this country and kill me, so be it. It is the price of liberty, and I am willing to pay for it as so many Americans have for over three centuries.

    Past is prologue. I see nothing new here. My great-grandparents came on a boat from Ireland, and they were not welcome. And they were the Protestants. The Irish Catholics (and, in fact, Catholics in general) were not welcomed. Somewhere between feared and reviled.

    Each wave of immigrants had their own detractors. Italians, Poles, Jews and Catholics, Asian Americans. Now the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of these very people are natural-born American citizens (and Governors), wearing fear and ignorance on their sleeves.

    At one point we locked up our own American citizens in determent camps, fearing that they may be dangerous because their ancestors were from Japan. Read an account some time of an American man born and raised in San Francisco, separated from his wife and children (men and grown boys were detained separate from others), his home, and all he knew of his life of freedom and plenty here in the land of liberty.

    It’s preposterous to let these families suffer because of irrational fears of foreigners. Don’t forget who blew up the Federal building in Oklahoma City, killing twice as many as the attacks in Paris. He was American born and raised.

    College campus shootings, the movie theater, the Unibomber, serial killers like Ted Bundy, lunatics like Son of Sam, idiots like Chapman: all natural-born Americans. Evil and aggression is not relegated by skin color, nationality, birthplace, economic status, physical attributes, education or any other parameter known to man. Evil has no prejudice or preference.

    Having stood at the base of that amazing statue, staring up at her tablet, I can personally verify your observations, Justine.

    There are no caveats on liberty.

    Be at peace,

    Paz

    1. Paz – I always appreciate your thoughtful comments. It means a great deal that you take the time to share your wisdom with me. I have been talking at length with my sons these days about the price of liberty. There are those who would like us to believe they are the true patriots while they espouse hatred and promote discrimination against those who are lost and seek freedom. It troubles my heart, but I try to do my best to listen to other view points and share my observations. I know I will not sway many, but I figure it is worth my effort to attempt to sneak a more open, positive thought into a closed and fearful mind. Life is too short to be filled with hatred and fear. I hope my sons will learn from my example and grow to be caring citizens of the world. Best wishes, friend, and Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

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