When my daughter, Matilda, was younger she’d often get herself in situations where we could clearly see that injury was imminent. An 18 month old probably shouldn’t climb to the top bunk without assistance. They shouldn’t play with scissors or go near the stove. And so we stopped her. We shielded her from her youth. But one day, I realized that she wasn’t learning a lot about what to avoid and how to make smart decisions on her own. She had no savvy. No smarts. Not the practical kind anyway.
I asked myself, what is my responsibility to her? Should I help her to be safe but stupid or let her make some mistakes and learn from them? So, I started letting her fall, letting her scrape her knees or bonk her head or touch something pointy. And after the shock and the wailing and, afterwards, the soothing, she started to realize that the world can be a dangerous place and so you’d better think before you do something foolish. She started to get it. And maybe some of her innocence was taken away, but it was for the best and it was done out of love for her.
By the time Jake was born, I’d adopted this philosophy in a dangerously cavalier way. “Hand me that hacksaw!” I’d bark. “The axe is an outside toy, you animal!” He was two then. How that kid is alive I don’t know but he’s 4 now and he gets it too. All of them do. And yes, they’ve all taken tumbles that we could have avoided for them. They’ve all split open a lip or suffered road burn after a fall. They’ve all been scarred. But they’re all smarter.
And so when I reflect on all the violence in the world right now, I’m again asking myself, what is my responsibility to them? As a husband? As a father? As we begin this world trip, Paris has suffered umfathomble violence and cruelty and destruction. Fourteen people were killed in San Bernadino, only a few miles from our home. Shootings in Oregon, bombings in Turkey–the list is endless. I won’t even get into the politics or the religious fundamentalism or the hatred that seems to permeate everything around us. Right now I just want to protect my family. How do I do that? Should we cancel the trip and stay indoors? Should I build a bigger fence around the property? Because lets face it, we’re not talking about a scraped knee or a split lip. We’re talking about situations that could be very dangerous and completely beyond my control to stop.
It’s fear, right? But is it of the irrational, scared of the dark variety or the legitimate threat variety? I have to believe that, by and large, it’s the former. Statistics back me up. And so what’s the lesson here? It sounds tired and cliche and that, in and of itself, is sad. But the lesson is that love is more powerful than fear. It is. It is the inscrutable force which connects all of us to one another. And though it goes by many names, it always aims to unite and the universe is filthy with it- made of it, in fact. Imagine a world where children grow up to ignore that bonding force and instead, know only fear and distrust of one another. Now, that is something to be afraid of!
I was already hoping to come out of my shell a bit on this trip and to be open to new people and new experiences. Now I think it’s absolutely crucial. THAT is my responsibility to them. And to myself. So, I’ll be going for the most obnoxious display of humanity that I can muster. I’m going to smile more. I’m going to laugh more. I’m going to try and fail to speak your language and eat your food and dance your dance. I’m going to say hello to you and look you in the eye. And if you’re crying, I’ll embrace you and cry with you. Because I need that too. And my kids need to see it. Because they need to believe that people are generally, good. Because they are. And even though the world is deeply scarred, we only become smarter by loving one another.