I'm seeing many friends on FB who are agonizing about how to discuss the tragedy in Newtown with their young children. It made me realize that my parents were given no option to hide such things.
Sure, having no TV meant that we didn't see everything that happened in the world every day. However, they made the choice to raise us in a neighborhood where we were exposed to life's hard truths every day. They didn't get to choose whether or not to discuss personal safety, homelessness, drug use, murder, and death. I have friends who have trouble talking about Easter with their children since it involves talking about Jesus dying on the cross so that Easter could happen. I can't remember a time when I didn't know that Jesus died for me.
When I was four, tragedy came very close. My godfather was involved with Teen Challenge. He was in a park talking with some teenagers. Without provocation or warning, one of the kids hit him in the head with a baseball bat. In trial the kid said he didn't know what came over him. For six months, my godfather was in and out of a coma until he died. I can remember visiting him in the hospital, sitting on his bed. Knowing he was watching me with love as I played in the room.
That same year, our pastor's oldest daughter was hit in the head with a hammer by her ex-boyfriend. She'd gone to him to tell him they couldn't have any further contact. Her sister was my sister's godmother. My pastor and his wife ended up founding Parents of Murdered Children after that. We watched them when they appeared on the Phil Donahue Show.
We attended both funerals, me as a four year old, my brother as a two year old and my baby sister.
While I was sad, I don't remember feeling personally scared or threatened. Why not? I'm trying to figure that out.
I remember knowing the facts about each of them. I don't remember the
specific conversations with my parents so I can't remember their exact
words. I know from how we handled things in general that they would have shared the facts without embellishment or euphemism, let us ask questions and then after the discussion, we would have prayed. For a child, that's a powerful thing. I totally believed that anything I asked God, he heard me. He might not answer as I liked, but he heard me in love. So I prayed earnestly for the people who'd done the violence, that God would change them. I'm sure my parents prayed for our safety. We prayed for comfort for my godmother and for our pastor's family. As a child, I felt like I was impacting things for good when we prayed. As an adult, I've become more resigned to 'how things are'. I still pray, but it's definitely not with the same undiluted faith I remember having as a little girl (Jesus knew what he was saying when he told the disciples to have faith like a little child).
I wonder if we sometimes protect our children at the risk of disempowering them? As a kid, I knew that Jesus died, but I knew that he rose again and beat death. So I knew that anyone who died knowing him also beat death. Which meant that somehow death wasn't the big, scary end point to be avoided at all costs. I learned very early that it's a doorway.
The fact that it's become a doorway for 26 people who were forced through before their time feels unacceptable. Aside from sending letters to Congressmen and the President, I guess that all I can do is pray. I'm letting my childhood self remind my adult cynic that 'just prayer' is not as small as it feels.