fear

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.

All Apologies

This morning I was going through some of the boys’ school papers. Joe almost never hands his to me because he flat-out forgets. I recover them months later when I notice his backpack has become too heavy to lift. Luke tosses his graded papers onto the counter amidst the usual chaos there where they often rest unnoticed until I finally remember there is an actual countertop under there and determine I should find it. At that point, they usually find their way to the trash because I don’t have the time to look through papers 20 minutes before company is scheduled to arrive. This morning, though, on a counter that was mostly clear because we had company over for dinner on Sunday, I found Luke’s papers and decided to flip through them before depositing them in the trash.

Luke's paper

Try not to notice that my son has me pegged for a Target addiction with his drawing.

 

Most of Luke’s papers were stamped Excellent or had positive comments written on them in Ms. Fitzwater’s bold, Sharpie markers. She had even drawn some pictures on the few of the papers, which I thought was above and beyond the usual teacher commentary. On this one paper, though, I noticed she had written, “Good second try!” Second try?

“Hey, Luke….”

“Yeah, Mom?”

I showed him the paper.

“Second try? Did you have to do this paper again?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“What happened to the first try?”

Luke looked right at me and in his usual unapologetic, straightforward way responded.

“You could say I didn’t find the right words….or use correct spelling…or use any punctuation..or make real sentences the first time.”

Well…there you go. I suppose that would invite a redo.

Luke is a funny kid. He’ll lie to you if he thinks he can get away with it. If you catch him in a lie, he will come clean without apologizing. It used to bother me, the lack of apology. Then I realized that his lack of contrition is the correct response. Why should he apologize for something he meant to get away with?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this lack of apology and how freeing it must be. I grew up apologizing…for everything. As a child, I was continually made aware if I were being too loud, too quiet, too aloof, too inquisitive, too busy, too lazy, or too whatever-adjective-you-want-to-insert. I became constantly fearful that whatever I was doing affected others in a negative way. I learned to apologize for my emotions, my actions, and my choices, as if everything I did was open to comments from the peanut gallery. I went into my adult life with a hesitant, cautious demeanor. It colored everything I did and reduced the number of things I was willing to attempt. It wasn’t until I hit midlife and felt time ticking away on me that I figured it was time to stop being so damned sorry all the time.

Luke was sent to me for a reason. He’s in my life to teach me that it’s okay not to offer unnecessary apologies. Luke is excellent at empathy and generous about owning up when he’s truly at fault or has caused pain. He merely doesn’t look for excuses for contrition. He doesn’t assume they’re necessary. That’s a skill I am working on. Luke lives his life. He is who he is and he knows what he wants. He knows what his strengths are and he knows his weaknesses too, although he’s smart enough not to dwell on them. There isn’t a day that goes by that I am not grateful for what my son has brought to my life. Perhaps if I take some cues from Luke, I will finally grow up and learn to live without being all apologies.

Surviving The Fire Swamp

This photo is not relevant to this post. Just wanted to see if you were paying attention.

This photo is not relevant to this post. I just happen to find things my boys do amusing.

Buttercup (referring to the Fire Swamp): “We’ll never survive.”

Wesley: “Nonsense. You’ve only saying that because no one ever has.”

~The Princess Bride

Someone asked me yesterday where I am with the book I am working on. It was a polite question, meant only to show interest in my progress. I have been dreading this question because, well, the truth is that I am nowhere with the book I am working on because I haven’t really started it. Wait. That’s not totally true. I have two ideas fleshed out and a couple chapters in each story attempt. I also have another story idea that I really kind of like, but it is still flipping over and over in my brain like a rock in a tumbler until I decide it’s shiny enough for me to write. So, I guess I have started writing. I simply haven’t made any real progress on an actual book.

A couple days ago I began analyzing my situation to determine what is causing my writing paralysis. Originally I blamed it on a lack of time. I used my blog as an excuse. Well, I’ve been off my blog more or less for over a month now and I haven’t added one lousy, stinking word to any of my started stories. Not one. I haven’t worked on a character sketch or written an outline. Aside from giving a couple hours’ worth of mental massage to my stories, I haven’t done a thing. I don’t suppose I can blame my blog for my lack of progress anymore. I have time now that the boys are back in school. As I documented the other day, I’ve had enough time to clean out my pantry, hand wash the floors, and dust baseboards. All those housecleaning maneuvers are clearly nothing but the actions of a desperate woman. I’m uncomfortable enough with the idea of having to write something creative that I cleaned out my pantry. I hadn’t done that job properly once in the ten years we’ve been in this house. Interesting that I should decide now is the time to remedy that situation.

Tonight, though, during a conversation with my sister it hit me. I was able to admit what is at the root of my procrastination. It’s fear. I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it. I’m afraid that if I do finish it that it still won’t be worth reading. I’m concerned that perhaps my putting myself forth as a writer was a mistake because if I do this and I’m not successful then I won’t even be able to claim that I am a writer. And, I only just got up the nerve to admit that I’m a writer a little less than a year ago. What if I’m a sham?

I’m a smart gal. I know there are no guarantees. I know that the best things in life come when you take a risk. I know that life is a growth proposition and to make forward progress you actually have to move. I know all these things. So, what the hell is my problem? Why am I being such a scaredy cat? And, how do I get beyond my fear? How do I make it through the Fire Swamp when I don’t see any way to survive?

I’d love to believe I could face the Fire Swamp the way that Wesley did, with optimism, blind faith, and complete confidence that it would all simply somehow work out. But, I don’t work that way, which is what has gotten me into this predicament in the first place. Rather than taking Wesley’s approach, like Inigo Montoya, I think I need to go back to the beginning. I need to make mini-goals that aren’t as scary as the goal of writing an actual book. Perhaps, first I will write a paragraph and see how that goes. Maybe I can do that every day for a week and then gradually, over time, I will find that fiction writing isn’t really as terrifying as I’m imagining? I nearly stalled out on my 80-page Master’s thesis due to this same type of writer’s paralysis, but I survived that Fire Swamp so I’m fairly certain I can negotiate this one. I have to stop telling myself I can’t. There are no flame spurts, lightning sand, or R.O.U.S. here, anyway, so that means my chances of survival are pretty good.

 

My God Doesn’t Make Junk

There is beauty everywhere.

“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” ~Audre Lorde

This morning while driving the boys to school, we got into another one of our deep discussions about life. In particular, today we were discussing the Bible, Christianity, and love and tolerance for all types of people. Very ambitious subject matter for 8 a.m., I know, but I cherish these conversations with my boys because it’s in them that I see the amazing young men they are becoming.

Today’s conversation started because I was talking about something I had read where two young, gay men had been asked to leave a public place they had every right to be in. In fact, they were told they would be thrown out if they did not leave willingly. This type of exclusion bothers me a great deal. Every time I start to think that as a society and a country we are moving forward with acceptance, I read something like this and my faith in us is diminished a bit. My boys are being raised in a home where it’s acknowledged that homosexuals are the same as heterosexuals except that they fall in love with someone of the same sex. We’re raising our boys this way because 1) it’s what my husband and I believe, and 2) they have family members in same sex relationships and we’ve never wanted our boys to think that it was unusual. We’ve decided the best way to teach tolerance is to discuss it and demonstrate it.

“I don’t know why people care who someone else loves,” I said. “Gay people deserve our respect too. Just because they’re walking a different path doesn’t mean it’s the wrong path. If Jesus could love the sinners, beggars, and lepers, why can’t His followers find love for different types of people too?”

“I don’t know.” Luke said. “It doesn’t bother me,” he said with a bit of pride. Then, after thinking about it for a minute he added, “Why does it bother people?”

“Well,” I replied. “many Christians quote the Bible and say God says it’s not right for men to be with other men. Personally,” I said, “I think it’s a little crazy the way people pick and chose things just the things they want to support from the Bible. I mean, do we go an eye for an eye or do we turn the other cheek? You can read an awful lot into Bible text. If every life is precious, then that means the lives of gay people are precious too. If we’re going to chose things from the Bible to follow in our lives, you’d think we’d pick the positive ones…like love your neighbor as yourself.

I allowed for a little pause while the boys chewed on that tidbit.

“Sometimes people fear what they don’t or can’t understand,” I added.

We sat in silence for a minute or so. Then, Joe spoke.

“You know, in the X-Men show we watch, they say humanity crushes what it does not understand.”

“Exactly, Joe,” I replied.

I was so proud of him just then, proud that he understood what I was saying enough to draw his own parallel to support it, even if that parallel was the X-Men. Sometimes my boys surprise me with their wisdom. To explain people’s differences, I tell them what I truly believe. A Christian should follow the example of Christ first and foremost. We are not God and we can’t understand His wisdom, but we can strive to accept that He does not make junk. Just because we don’t understand it, doesn’t make it wrong.