Addressing our tragedies one front porch safari at a time
As I worked on this column, my oldest son called out to me. I heard the excitement in his voice. He’d discovered something. From the sound of his voice, I was sure it was a veritable scientific breakthrough.
When I walked out on the front porch, he beamed, thrust a finger in my face and showed me one of the strangest looking caterpillars I’d ever seen. We speculated about the taxonomy of the specimen as we investigated the matter further with a Google search on my phone. On our front porch safari, we discovered the caterpillar of the legendary definite tussock moth.
Unburdened by the tragedies in the world around him, my son found joy in the wonder of discovery. He wanted me to share that with him. In what amounted to a momentary distraction from my work, I was truly present with my son. It didn’t lessen my awareness of the evils in our world; I simply remembered there is light and hope along with the darkness. His emotions stirred mine.
I too often become numb.
I can’t process all the horrific realities plucked from our world, distilled by modern media and mainlined into my consciousness. I feel tremendous pressure to develop deeply held personal perspectives regarding issues or events that I wouldn’t even know about but for the 24-hour news cycle. I become so emotionally engrossed in something like an eloquent pontification about Israeli-Palestinian engagement that I could have easily missed my son’s porch safari.
I don’t want to minimize the real tragedies in our world, but neither do I wish to be consumed by their gloom. At times, I struggle to understand how such evils exist simultaneously with the innocence and exuberance I see in my three sons. The horrors always make for better television ratings than the strange caterpillars.
The common element in so many of these violent tragedies is someone who doesn’t believe he has anything to lose. It might be an angry, frustrated teen, an impoverished Palestinian or someone who simply doesn’t feel like anyone cares whether he exists or not. Ultimately, we seem to be too frequently failing each other. How do we reach these people before they do unspeakable things?
Mother Teresa is popularly attributed as saying, “Never worry about numbers. Help one person at a time and always start with the person nearest you.” The same could be said addressing the great challenges we face today.
As much as I’d love to find the big solution for gun violence, rancor in the Middle East or a host of other issues, I simply don’t have that capacity. I can invest in my sons. I’m able to teach them how to befriend someone who needs them. I can offer support to other families in my community. Those efforts aren’t indifference to what’s happening elsewhere, it’s responsiveness where I have reach.
The alternative is far worse.
What if my hand wringing over the headlines keeps me from responding to my son? He becomes numb at a much younger age than I ever could have. If I don’t value his joyful discovery, he’ll determine that it must not be that big of a deal after all. The light I see in him will dim by the same degree that I put him off. That pathway not only erodes his ability to uplift those around him, but it endangers his own future.
I refuse to throw up my hands in surrender because of the enormity of the problems we face, but I also realize that the answers to many of them begins with a caterpillar crawling from my son’s hand to mine.