By: Shannon Ralph
Friday afternoon, I sat at home with my children and wife watching Ellen on television. Like most parents, I was multi-tasking. Watching television, chatting with my kids about their school day, and perusing Facebook on my phone. It was a day like any other day—until it wasn’t. Our show was interrupted with the news that multiple gunman were waging war on Paris, France. The details, though sketchy at the time, were terrifying.
And there sat my three children, wide-eyed, taking it all in.
Immediately, I felt an intense sadness for the victims and the unimaginable loss their families and loved ones would have to endure. But my second thought, perhaps selfishly, was for my own family. What do I say to my children? How do I explain terrorism to nine- and twelve-year olds? How can I possibly be expected to explain the inexplicable?
I could assure my kids they are safe, but would I be lying? The parents of France surely thought their children were safe. I could assure them that it won’t happen here. But we all know it has. And it very well may again. I could tell them that I will always protect them. But how can any of us protect our children from a wickedness that has no country? No confines? No conscience? From an evil that spurns basic human dignity?
As these thoughts careened through my brain like pinballs, I happened to glance down at my phone. There, staring back at me from the screen, was a quote someone had posted on Facebook days before the events in Paris. The quote was from Fred Rogers—Mr. Rogers—my childhood hero.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
In that moment, I knew how I would discuss the events in Paris with my children.
I would focus on the honorable people. The kind. The noble. The heroes of the day. I would make sure my children heard the stories about the Parisians who were beckoning strangers to safety in their apartments. The people who were pulling the sheets from their own beds to cover the dead in the streets. The people who tended to the injured. The individuals who shoved others to safety. The first responders who rushed toward the gunshots. The peace-loving Muslims who launched a powerful social media campaign against ISIS with the hashtag #notinmyname.
When faced with unspeakable horror, I think we can react in one of two ways. 1. We can focus on the perpetrators—on the violent act itself—filling our hearts with fear and our souls with unease, or 2. We can focus on the innately elegant human reaction to hatred, filling us with a sense of hope and solidarity with the rest of the world.
It is impossible to shelter our children from evil. No matter how hard we try—no matter how much we want to wrap them up in bubble wrap and keep them safe—we can’t do it. Evil exists in our world. But we can acknowledge it without succumbing to it. We can fear it—it is only natural, or course—without becoming slaves to our fear. We can react as humans are exquisitely wired to react to evil, with love and compassion and kindness.
This is what we tell our children. We tell them that there are more helpers in the world than there are hurters. There are more good people in the world than there are evil. We tell our children that they are surrounded by people who want nothing more than to protect them, and we greatly outnumber those who want to hurt them.
And we tell them we love them. We always tell them we love them.
Photo Credit: Moyan Brenn