What A Wonderful World

A glimpse of our wonderful world
A glimpse of our beautiful world

On the way home from school today, Joe began talking about the shootings at Charlie Hebdo. He was curious if the shooters had been found. I told the boys about the attack shortly after picking them up yesterday because I knew they would hear about it anyway. Today Joe garnered more information about it while watching a youth-focused version of CNN at school, and he needed to talk about it. Joe is a facts-based person. He seeks to understand things, and sometimes his understanding leaves him concerned. He processes news differently than his brother, who is far more touched by the emotion of human tragedy. For Luke, it’s not the fear of something happening to him, but the sadness of something happening to someone else.

When they were very young, we shielded them heavily from the news. Our ban on television reporting began late in August, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Joe was 4 then, and I knew that any video of flooding after the levees broke would send my safety child into a panic. I pictured him poised at the top of the stairs, climbing to higher ground for the rest of his natural days. Steve and I began taking our news in primarily via the Internet, where we could quietly absorb the stories and determine what to share with our children. When a gunman killed 12 people in a movie theater in nearby Aurora, Colorado, we carefully explained what had happened to our boys as soon as we could because we didn’t want them hearing about it from anyone else.  Two years later, Joe is still hesitant to see movies in the theater, and he never saw one iota of television news coverage about the story. If he had, I imagine he’d never want to leave the house. (On a side note…that would save us a cool fortune in dining out costs.)

Today as Joe was talking about the news from France and Luke was trying to understand how anyone could take satire for anything other than satire, I stopped them. I reminded them that the world is full of good things that never get reported. We only ever hear bad news, which is why we spend an inordinate amount of time online trying to get cheerful by watching videos of cute animals or cute children. We’re constantly bombarded by the bad, the ugly, the scary, the repulsive, the unexplainable, the ridiculous, and the pointless. The news continually pits us against one another in a contest to determine who is the most wrong and who is the most righteous. Imagine if the news were instead filled with stories of people shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor or friends pitching in to cook dinner after someone’s surgery or a teenager buying a meal for a war veteran seated nearby. Small acts of peace, friendship, gentleness, generosity, and goodwill occur every day in a frequency we don’t see. So instead of allowing the hope of those good things to penetrate our lives, we become consumed with negativity and pessimism about the world that is presented to us.

Bad things do happen. Extremists murder journalists. Children get cancer. Soldiers leave and return in coffins. But if we spend our time in this life focusing solely on the tragedy in this world and looking for answers that will never come, we change. We become fearful. And with each act of violence and hatred, we lose a little bit of our souls. I work every day to show my children why life is worth living and why you can’t let the bastards get you down. When I got home, I showed the boys photos of the vigils in Paris where locals held signs that read “Not Afraid.” We need to be brave, I assured them. Everything is going to be all right. We can never make sense of the dark, but we can light a candle and pass it on.

 

 

Mr. Roger’s Wisdom

There might just be a silver lining in these clouds.
There might be a silver lining in these clouds.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” ~Fred Rogers

Explosions in two different states rocked our country this week. In less than 72 hours, bombings in Boston and a deadly chemical explosion in Texas stole the lion’s share of media attention. My Facebook news feed first erupted with posts about the details of the damage and then was quickly overburdened with online prayers and calls for donations. On Monday evening after watching about 20 minutes of reporting on the bombings at the Boston Marathon with my sons, I turned the television off because we’d seen everything we needed to see. The damage was extensive, the loss of life tragic, and the implications disturbing.

On Tuesday, the quote listed above from television’s beloved Mr. Rogers began circulating on Facebook. It was shared thousands of times, a much appreciated reminder to look for the positive when everything seems bleak. And so we did. As a collective community, new posts began emerging about the runners who crossed the finish line at the marathon and kept on running two additional miles to Boston General to donate blood for those injured in the attacks. Restaurants offered free meals to those who couldn’t pay. Ordinary citizens rushed into the fray and used items of their clothing to create tourniquets for the wounded. In West, Texas, emergency responders from up to 100 miles away showed up to offer their services in the wake of that deadly explosion. Those willing to help in times of grave tragedy are often too many to count. And in a way, knowledge of the kindness of strangers somehow removes some of the sting from these horrific incidents. Selfless acts of generosity and compassion bring hope. And it sure does make you feel good about human kind to see the best side of people rather than the side you see most days while stuck in traffic or waiting at the doctor’s office or shopping in a crowded Costco.

I have to wonder what would happen in this country if people treated each other each day with the type of consideration, care, and concern they offer during the worst of times. We all rally together to fix meals for a family when we find out someone is having surgery, but how often do we offer to share a meal just because we can tell someone could use a night off? We volunteer to shovel the driveway for the elderly neighbor when she breaks her hip, but why don’t we offer our services as a matter of routine because we are able-bodied and generous of spirit? We sit and stew in traffic, refusing to let the numbnuts who waited until the last minute to merge into the construction traffic into our lane. We look back and notice someone coming into the store but judge that the ten feet they are away from us doesn’t merit our time to wait and hold the door for them. We moan and groan and whine about having to volunteer for things. We complain every time a request is made of us. We somehow figure that donating $10 through a text or dropping some unwanted clothes off at a local thrift store qualifies us for being a good person while we still commit crimes of indifference toward each other each and every day.

Now I am in no way implying that I am my best self every day. My kids can verify that I provide a steady litany of swear words and derisive comments on the highway. And sometimes when I hold the door for someone out of kindness and they fail to acknowledge me I will pop off with a highly sarcastic You’re Welcome as the person walks away. It’s difficult for me to be selfless. Very difficult. Like many people, I work hard for my family and at the end of the day I feel like I’ve done my fair share and given all I have to offer. I do wonder, though, how much better I would feel about myself and the world if I offered just a bit more of my kindest self to others without a flippant attitude or the hope of acknowledgment. I know we can’t all be Mother Teresa, but I do believe that we’d be a lot happier in this nation if we showed up with our best selves more often. If we tried just a bit harder to be a helper every single day, even in the smallest of ways, I have to believe that this country would be a much happier place to live.