It’s impossible, and probably unwise, to shield one’s children from every evil in the world. Still, at the ages my kids are—ten, eight, six, and three—they don’t need to be aware of every political happening, national tragedy, or bit of celebrity gossip. That said, my oldest heard the news about the massacre in Texas recently, where a man shot twenty-six people at the Sutherland Springs church. When he asked me about it, I told him the basic story, and, like a good Mama, offered some unsolicited advice.
First, I offered my son a spiritual observation. Evil lurks in this world in every country, in every town, in every wisp of air on this planet. Some good people do bad things; bad people do good things; but in situations like this, a bad person has done a bad thing that seems almost unthinkable and inexplicable. Evil will always live among us and that will never change.
Most kids are well acquainted with this idea—why do you think Star Wars is so popular? Good guys battling bad guys is a trope that has been around since the beginning of time. Adults know the world isn’t entirely black and white, but many issues still do come down to a primitive battle between good and evil. So I find that leveling with my kids, who understand this concept, counterintuitively offers a semblance of peace: No matter what we do to get rid of evil, we won’t be able to. It’s not entirely up to them.
Second, I gave my son some socio-economic commentary. There are people in this world who grow up and don’t understand themselves. (Socrates had it right.) They fail to identify their strengths, work on their weaknesses, find their desires, and pursue them with gusto. These people end up following false ideologies that promise honor and glory but only lead to destruction. Avoid this impulse, and these people, until you’re rock-solid in your own beliefs.
Still other people are wired differently from the get-go, and on top of this they make poor choices as their lives evolve. “If you meet a person who hurts women, children, or animals, run,” I said. “Tell a grown-up.” I told him that this is why it’s important to spend time reading, building, and playing with friends, rather than pretending to blast things to bits on a video game. (I’m not saying correlation equals causation and video game influence is certainly controversial. But “garbage in garbage out” is real.)
I also told him that while there are bad guys willing to kill innocent people, there are almost always good guys willing to stop them. The Sutherland Springs shooting was no different. Instead of being a bad guy, or even finding the idea of being one interesting or alluring, be the good guy, and look for the good guys. As C.S. Lewis said, “Since it is so likely that (children) will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.” Every year on the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack, I tell my children a little more about what happened on that day and I show them the documentary, Boatlift, which describes how dozens of ordinary folks with boats helped transport scared New Yorkers off Manhattan and to safety in New Jersey. If kids can look for the heroes in tragic situations, maybe someday they will find the strength to be one when needed.
Third, I gave my son some very tangible, specific advice. We often attend events near our nation’s capitol where there are large crowds and minimal security. Most families go to activities that bad guys would consider “soft targets.” Hello, Major League Baseball games? It may seem extreme to offer advice on what to do if he ever found himself in this situation but what if he needs it someday? This has become a part of our world and I felt I would be remiss if I didn’t at least offer some practical information for him to follow in the event he finds himself in such a situation. As an adult, I often still hear my parent’s voices in my head, encouraging me as they did when I was a child.
I told him simple things like to be sure to find cover, run for help if that seemed like a viable option, and to try to be brave. He’s my oldest and I expect him to protect his younger siblings. “If we ever get separated, in a scary situation like that,” I said to him, “You throw yourself over your siblings. You protect them at all costs. Don’t let me find out you left your siblings behind.” I looked him in the eye and said, “You will not be a coward.” He nodded. “OK, Mama.” The last, most important thing I told him was to pray for God’s peace and protection, should he ever find himself in a room getting gunned down. Only God knows the path He has for my son’s life. To borrow from Victor Hugo, “Death belongs to God alone, by what right do men touch that unknown thing?”