A few days ago, out of the blue, my 17-year-old son shared a memory from when he was in first grade. He recalled coming out of his room one morning and seeing me on the couch, red-faced and teary-eyed, as the TV showed images of the World Trade Center crumbling and the sky filling with dark smoke.
My son has been reminded of this horrendous act of violence and hatred thousands of times in his relatively short life. I’m glad he remembers not only that our nation was the victim of terrorism, but also that his mother was moved by the tragedy.
He probably never saw me cry before that morning, and has rarely seen my tears since then.
Parents are supposed to be omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. We are charged with raising little beings from the womb to the grave (ours or theirs, whichever comes first). We must keep them fed, clothed, housed and loved, and must ensure that they learn to read, write, ride bicycles and get along with others. Our job is to keep them safe and honest, so they can contribute positively to society.
This morning I saw a psychologist on TV, coaching parents to be the first to share news of tragedies with their kids. Good luck on that. With the prevalence of Smartphones and laptops, our kids usually hear the latest before we do.
We can, however, model how to react to tragedy. How to feel compassion for those affected. How to consider the impact on families, friends and communities. How to donate time or funds to organizations that can make a difference. How to avoid profiling or vilifying certain ethnic or religious groups, and instead wait for the truth to unfold.
Most important, perhaps, we can reveal that in the face of tragedy, we are simultaneously strong and weak, capable of envisioning a better world, and yet shedding real tears over unfathomable cruelty.
We need to show tears, not fear.
Of course, I want my kids to remember where they were and how they reacted when they heard about the events of 4-15-13. However, I also want them to recall how they felt learning that Martin William Richard, while watching the celebrated 26.2-mile race, lost his eight-year-old son, saw his daughter lose a leg and witnessed his wife getting a serious brain injury.
I want my kids to remember how my voice quivered when I told them about that family, and that I hugged them tightly and reminded them how much I love them.
I want to raise kids who feel love for their family and friends, and also feel deeply for the entire human race. I want them to learn and understand poet John Donne’s famous words: “Any man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in Mankind.”
-Linda Williams Rorem, 16 April 2013
- Be helpful, be kind or be quiet (raventools.com)
- The Boston Marathon Bombings: A Parent’s Perspective (theopnation.com)
- “Look for the HELPERS”: How to talk to your kids about tragedies… (mommymanders.com)
- Five Certainties Following the Boston Marathon Bombings (bostonmamas.com)
- Boston. (saltyrunning.com)