This week has been full of immeasurable tragedy in our world. Headlines and cellphone videos and words of anger, grief, and confusion are ringing out; hostages are taken and bodies are broken as the global community watches, and mourns, with bated breath.
I see myself, as well as my peers, feeling a sweep of emotions as our eyes are opened wider to some ugly realities of the human condition. We are lost as to what to do to help heal our world’s brokenness. Some react with anger, some with tears. Some pick sides or scramble to find someone to blame. Many fall back into avoidance because of feelings of helplessness. Our heads easily find the sand when frightening things happen across oceans, but when they enter our line of sight we are forced to face them.
I felt lost in a haze as the weight of what’s been happening this week washed over me. Bloody images and loved ones’ cries filled my memory whenever silence hit, and close behind it, melancholy. As I drove down the highway and wrestled within myself, my four-year-old engaged me with her most powerful and pressing question of the day: Mommy, what happened to those trees on the back of that truck?
I imagined an enormous chasm between where I sat in the front seat and my children in the back. My mind was on Sterling. Castile. Thompson. Zamarripa. Smith. Krol. Ahrens. Hers was on the logging truck passing us on the left.
To her, the world is a safe and predictable place. The things she doesn’t understand, Mommy has answers for. The only notions of harm ever coming to her or her loved ones are minimized to the need to hold hands before crossing the street, or the possibility of falling and scraping knees when running. She doesn’t know wariness of routine traffic stops or the fear of sending Daddy off to his job wearing a blue uniform. She doesn’t entertain anxiety that a trip to the grocery store (one of her favorite activities) could bring her to the site of a bombing.
She sees the color of someone’s skin or their religious dress the same way she views the fire truck they’re holding or the Disney princess printed on their shirt. It’s a beautiful uniqueness that is specific to that person, but requires no further examination. When we’re out in public and she sees anyone under the age of 16, her breath catches and she exclaims, “Look Mommy! A friend!” Her friends span class, ethnicity, religion, and handicap. There are no “sides.” She has no concept of centuries-long oppression or marches for equality or international feuds, that simply having more or less pigment in your God-given skin can open you up to bias.
I know that, in the not too distant future, her sheltered and perfect world will crumble, brick by brick. She will hear a racial slur, understand the context of the flaming aftermath she sees on the news, or learn that one of her friends’ parents isn’t here anymore. She’ll have questions for my husband and I that we can’t answer to her, or our, complete satisfaction. We won’t have the perfect solution. She’ll see us unsure and maybe even scared, too.
When that day comes, though, we will be ready. Ready to share, in plain language, our wish for her to be a light. It’s funny how you can desire to both shield your children from adversity and usher them into it. How else does real, lasting change occur? Empathy requires us to enter into the pain of others. Once our eyes are opened, we have a duty and responsibility to be agents of peace. Only then will the change we hope for now come to fruition in their lives.
Rachel is a wife and mother living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She’s a fan of good coffee, wearer of gray t-shirts, and is constantly starting books she will never finish. Her family is her joy, and she loves to engage with other moms and dads on matters of parenting. Her blog posts have also been featured on the Today Show Parenting Blog and Scary Mommy.