“I’m scared” he said slowly as he appeared in the kitchen for the second time in as many minutes.
“I understand. But it’s still time for bed. Come on, I’ll tuck you in again,” and I led him up the stairs back into his room. I plopped him back into his bed and repeated the mantra I use when fear is what’s keeping him awake “I love you and you’re always safe with Daddy” and began to walk out of the room.
“Why did the news have to be on?” he broke into a cry again and I knew this wasn’t trying to extend bedtime. “The news came on during the Bears game.”
“Oh buddy, tell me what you saw” I knew what he saw. The coordinated ISIS attacks in Paris weren’t yet 72 hours old and even though I didn’t see the news snippet he did, I knew what it was. Images of people crying. An ominous passport photo of an alleged shooter, stern faces saying things like “our prayers are with them tonight.”
“I don’t wanna say–I saw everything.”
“”But can you tell me what you saw so I know how much you understand?” Sometimes putting words to it helps frame it in a way that I can name his fear and assuage it specifically.
“I understand it,” he whimpered. and I knew. I knew that there was no good answer. His fear tonight was the fear millions of people in France, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Myanmar, Kenya, Chicago’s south/west sides, and nearly everywhere else but my tiny suburb feel when they lay their heads on their pillows. Will I Survive the week? Will the people I love be safe when they go to the places they go? What did they do wrong? What words calm such fears? Think. What would Merton or Buechner say? What would John Wayne say? What would my dad say? or my Grandpa? What can anyone say?
I begin with all I know. “well, the news can be pretty scary. And I don’t know why those mean people did those bad things. But I know this, if any mean person were trying to hurt you or anyone in our family. I wouldn’t let them. You’re always safe when I’m around. You know how angry I get sometimes? Like if I stub my toe or something isn’t working right and I bang my fist on things? Well, I’d be about a million times angrier if a mean guy like that was here. I bet if there was a mean guy out there in the cul de sac, I’d be so mad I’d jump right through this wall to go stop him like the hulk, and I’d use these big clunky hulk fists to knock him down and stop him until the police got here. They wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” I believe it, too. I’d like to believe that my biggest weakness–my anger– has the possibility for redemption in just this way. I would bare hand hurt someone trying to hurt my family.
The faint memory of a Mr. Rodgers quote someone posted on Facebook for some tragedy or another flickers in the dark space of my memory and I grab for it.
“and, the news can be pretty scary. And I don’t know why those mean people did those bad things. But I know the next time you see the news–here’s the really cool thing–if you look close, you won’t just see mean people. You’ll see lot of other people running in to help. Whether its an earthquake or a fire, or a mean guy like in Paris, you’ll see helper people running in to help. Firemen to put out fires and rescue people, the police or even the army to save people from the mean guys. There’s always more good people rushing in to help…” I stammer.
He smiles a little–clearly still worried but keen on this idea. But I’m not satisfied. So what if good people help? What’s with the bad people?
“and the news can be pretty scary. I don’t know why those mean people did those bad things.” What was it they were learning about in church this morning? “What did you learn about Gideon this morning?”
“To trust God,” he says softly, as if he knows the foolheartedness of that notion when it comes to stopping bullets and bomb vests.
“Right, and if you look at everything in the bible, God says ‘I’m with you.’ It never says ‘this is easy,’ or ‘you’ll be safe, but I’ll be with you,” and as I say it, I feel the weakness, too. Its why fundamentalism is so appealing to so many. The comforts offered are seemingly certain. But that is not the nature nor the history. The bible is people struggling with God. Yelling at God and betraying God. And I won’t bend to cheap comfort just because it’s easy. I won’t breed an American fundamentalist because of some Levantian fundamentalists.
“But why can’t you just get a newspaper and read it alone and never turn on the news?” he asks.
“I’m sorry you had to see the news. It can be pretty scary. And I don’t know why those guys did those mean things. I promise that I will never make you watch the news on purpose if you don’t want to. But even if we didn’t see it, it still happened. Its part of our job to help make a world where stuff like that can’t happen. That’s kinda cool that we are part of it, right? Every time we go to school or work, we have a chance to be kind to people, to spread love and forgive others. People who do mean things usually don’t know that they are loved. We have a chance to let them know they are loved. God tells us that we have to be part of this work of making the world better. And we get to do it every day in every interaction we have with people. We can actually help stop bad things from happening by loving more people better. ” And I felt it. I finally had said something that comforted me. I had said something true. Can I stop ISIS by smiling at the bully in 2nd period who won’t shut up? That’d be some pretty crazy butterfly effect stuff. But we all want to be able to do something. And I finally felt like I had come up with something to do.
I laid with him until I thought he was asleep and then got up to go. He popped up and asked “Can you stay a littler longer?” I did.