Am I selfish? Am I stupid? Have I done wrong by my son, bringing him into this world constantly seized by hate, terror, and violence?
These thoughts popped into my head with every pushed notification I received on my iPhone from AP News as word of the Paris attacks broke in the US yesterday afternoon.
“I’m scared for him. I don’t want anyone to hurt him. He isn’t safe anywhere. He isn’t safe in an elementary school, or a movie theater, or a mall, or here, or overseas. I can’t protect him every day. Shit like this scares me. It terrifies me.”
These are the words I whispered as I lay in bed with my husband last night, wiping tears from my cheeks, while our son slept soundly in the pack’n’play beside us. He held me and reassured me the only way he truthfully could—these things happen, and we do our best to teach him how to love and respect others, and what to do to stay or be safe in times like these, and we hope he is never in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s all we can do.
Alongside my doubt over whether the decision to bring a child into this world—a decision I fought hard for—was or was not selfish and foolish, and the fear for his life for the rest of my life, is also the unspoken worry that my child could contribute to the hate and the terror and the violence. What if no matter how much I love him, and how well I care for him, and how much I try to teach him love and respect and equality, that he ends up being the person who brings such grief and fear to the world? I begin to wonder, how much is nature and how much is nurture and how much is just written in our biology?
I suppose these questions are expected. I suppose my parents heard about Columbine and hoped my brother and I wouldn’t do anything like that. I suppose they feared for us and felt helpless on 9/11, and even more recently, after the Boston Marathon bombings. I suppose they still worry, even now, for my safety. Knowing they can’t protect me. Knowing they can’t be there every second of every day to watch over me. I suppose this is just a part of parenting.
I don’t know if it’s because, in our younger years, we’re so far removed from tragic events and wars long past, and protected from the more current reality that is terrorism, assassinations, bombings, hijackings, mass murder—but the world just seems to get scarier and scarier the older I get. I do know that if I truly allowed myself to consider all the “what ifs,” I would never step foot outside my house.
But I do step out of my house. I did meet my cousins at the mall today. I do plan on taking a high-speed train to DC next summer for vacation. I do know that sometime next year, I’ll take my little family to a Bruins game at the TD Garden in Boston.
But why do I do this? How do I venture from the (somewhat false sense of) safety of my own home? I guess…hope? Hope that I won’t be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Hope that “today isn’t that day, this place isn’t that place.” Hope that things will change, will get better. Hope that my generation—my son’s generation will bring about that change, that betterment. To try to take every day of life for the miracle it is, and yet hope there will be another one like it tomorrow.
And also a determination to not live in fear. To not be scared to be on a plane, or at a public event, or in a national or state monument. To prove that we will continue to fight against terrorism, improve our mental health resources, eliminate discrimination of all kinds—and make the world a safer, better, happier place.
At least, on days like today—following nights like last night—that’s what I have to repeat to myself. Otherwise, what’s the point of any of this?
My heart goes out to everyone affected by the attacks on France.