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.