Confused. Dismayed. Stressed. Distracted. Sad. So very sad.
That’s how I’m feeling right now. I’m sure we’re all feeling some or all of these things right now.
Lingering above my head, there’s this new overarching cloud of grief for the victims of the attack in Boston. And still swelling below my feet is an older, yet freshly planted lower level of despair for the victims of the massacre in Newtown.
And in between there’s my mind, and my heart. On a daily basis my heart is breaking and mending as it feels the impact of terrible news stories both in my city and around the world, followed by moments of happiness that I witness in my own home. On an hourly basis my mind is confused feeling both sadness on a global level and at the same time joy on a very local, personal level. Its hard to reconcile my own emotions as I process devastating images of a family who has just lost so much, then turn around to see my own child’s beaming smile and bright, alive eyes. Grief and guilt pulling one way, gratitude and grace pulling another.
To say its been a rough go lately doesn’t do it justice….doesn’t begin to do it justice. But lately it has been a rough go.
Having lived in Washington DC during 9/11, the anthrax mailings and the sniper case the following year, I’ve been through these times of it being a rough go before. We all have. I’ve felt nationwide tragedies and personal tragedies so the ebbs and flows of these emotions are familiar.
Sadly I know that the surge of these current emotions will, with time, recede to a dulled version of those same emotions. And while they will always be there, never being replaced or going away, eventually they will co-exist with the emotions we like to describe as “normal” emotions. These emotions feel something like happy, nonchalant, care-free and relaxed.
Isn’t it a wonderful privilege that here in this country, we consider the emotion of carefree happiness to be our normal emotion? Like its the default setting, the way it should be. Everything else is an interruption of how we are supposed to feel.
As an adult having gone through some life experiences I now know reality. And I know that this carefree happiness default setting will unfortunately be interrupted at times by personal and world tragedies. I know that during those times I will stumble and fall to the ground in despair and somehow, at some point, bravely work my way back up. But even with that knowledge, it doesn’t make these events any easier, does it?
My children have not yet learned this difficult lesson. They’ve been told about loss and felt it to a smaller degree when a pet goldfish died or a favorite toy train has been lost. They know what a sad event it was when their baby sister died and how we’ve made her a part of our family love story. But I don’t believe at this point they have yet felt the paralyzing fear and anguish that comes in events like the one in Boston this week that make us stumble and fall to the ground both as a society and as individuals.
My husband and I have talked to our kids about horrific events with the appropriate tone. We’ve explained a bit about 9/11 to our oldest son and after educating ourselves about how to do so, we discussed the school shootings in Newtown.
But this time our children have seemed more concerned and have more questions about the Boston attack. Perhaps because they’ve been to road races, either participating themselves or standing on the sidelines cheering on their parents as we run by. Perhaps because the idea of a school shooting is just too much for them to grasp….or (gasp!) perhaps its too easy for them to grasp since they practice lockdown drills and its a common conversation for them like fire drills and tornado drills. Perhaps because this time it was a bomb and the word bomb is something they only associate with war zones, not the streets of the city they visited last summer to see their mom’s old apartment and office. Perhaps because the images from Boston on Monday were gruesome. And while I made conscious efforts to limit their exposure to these images, those images were there from a sunny spring day on a street in Boston. And thankfully, those images were not there from a dark winter’s day inside a school in Connecticut.
Perhaps or perhaps not. But I know in my heart that part of what is contributing to their concern is the timing of the Boston attack. In the last week or so its been a rough go for us in our small community. Two weeks ago I explained to the kids that despite what we’ve learned about litter, they shouldn’t pick up water bottles on the ground at our local park. At a place where they feel as comfortable as an extension of their own backyard, a report surfaced that water bottles were being filled with Drano causing chemical burns to young children or anyone who opened them. A few days later, last week we reviewed the stranger danger talk when reports circulated of two adults attempting to lure children to a van by offering candy and the chance to create a phone video.
Our kids seemed genuinely confused and almost angry! Asking questions like “why are so many bad things happening right now?” and “why would someone want to hurt other people?” followed with a quieted statement that my son muttered to himself (which I knew meant it was really bothering him), “they don’t even know the people they are hurting. Why would they do that?”
I realized that until now I’ve been prepared to talk with with my children about sad things happening, but not bad things happening. I’ve considered myself to be pretty open with communication and equipped to provide thoughtful responses about grief and loss. But it wasn’t until this last week that I knew I was not equipped to talk about evil.
Its not only that I don’t want them to fear evil. Its that I don’t want them to know evil. I don’t want them to ever feel the forces of evil either aimed at them, or against someone else. I don’t want the energy of evil to permeate its way into my household and my children’s happy, carefree default setting. Bright eyes, contagious giggles, uninhibited glee. This is how they were made and as parents none of us want any outside force to stain that or take that from our children.
So when the Boston attack came on the heels of the local events described above, I grieved something else. I grieved the end of my children’s innocence. I morosely thought to myself, This is it. This is the week my kids stop being kids.
This morning my son called me to a window at the front of our house. Trying to gage whether or not this was an emergency and if I did indeed have time to leave the lunches I was packing and the dishwasher I was unloading, I hollered out, “Why? Is it good or bad?”.
“Well both” he answered. I braced myself and headed upstairs to the window where I found an egg shattered on it. We had been egged! Not full fledged egged…just one egg likely tossed by a neighborhood teenager on a night of mischief. While I few nagging thoughts made me slightly worried, I really didn’t feel that we were personally targeted or threatened. Even so, a weight started to fall all around me.
Great. Not this week! How will explain this one to the kids? Someone decided to throw an egg at our window, knowing it would do damage. What is the right way to talk though pranks and how they can hurt feelings?
But to my surprise, the kids started jumping around delighted, concluding that surely the Easter Bunny must have been the one to put this egg outside our window! In a swift second our household was literally springing with silliness and joy and giggling and dancing and excited chatter. My children’s first instinct was that a smashed egg on our window was the act of goodness, not the act of evil.
I took a step back, witnessing this gleeful chaos and thought to myself how I want to freeze it. I want to preserve it…this innocence, this pure happiness. I never want it to be spoiled for them or to change for them.
But of course, and heartbreakingly so, it will change as they grow and both personal and world events occur. My only source of peace in that reality comes with knowing that this week my children experienced their own small level of sadness and trauma. And while it was interrupted, they returned to their default setting. They returned to their happiness, and it returned to them.