It is Sunday morning and 49 people are dead. At first, I actually don’t believe it, but then, there are details.
It was a hate crime.
It happened at a gay nightclub in Florida during Pride, it was perpetrated by an Afghani-American, he might have been homosexual, he used Grindr, he pledged allegiance to the Islamic state, he had a three year-old son….
“Is that a scary man?”
My own son is standing at the bottom of the stairs. He woke up early, and I’m watching CNN. Both of his index fingers are outstretched at Omar Mateen. I’m still processing. There is grief and rage, and I don’t know what to say to him.
I watch as my own uncertainty washes over his body. His eyes shift back and forth from underneath those heavy lashes that all little boys seem to have been magically bequeathed with from nowhere, and his little body—dotted with the very first freckles of his life—begins to stiffen. How do you explain the increasingly complex climate of the world to someone whose entire universe consists of neighborhood twirly slides and Targets and sandwiches shaped like stars? How do I make my child feel safe when beautiful people are being executed for dancing with the ones they love? Is my child safe?
As a parent, it is easy to feel powerless in this moment. A part of me is cowering as I write this. When I watch the victims’ names flash upon the screen, the thought of what my children will inherit from us pulls the air from my lungs.
I want to wrap myself around my kids so entirely that I almost swallow them. I want to toss them in the van and drive away. I want to dig a giant bunker and homeschool them. At my weakest, though I am—and always have been—unequivocally opposed to weapons, I want to go and buy a gun.
I want protect them. I want to protect them with a desperation that threatens the very fabric of who I am. I know you understand. The boundless ferocity of love that is awakened with parenthood has consumed us all at one point or another. But I’m going to ask you, the same as I’m asking myself, not to recoil from the world now. Even at it’s most monstrous.
My fear is dangerous—so is yours. It sticks to everything it touches. I can see it all over the internet, and I can see it in the creases of my son’s brow—like he hears the maddening chorus of alarm bells ringing in my ears somewhere off in the distance. As we see the faces of the joyful souls lost at Pulse staring at us in grainy photographs lifted from Facebook, I see my own three babies who are so new to this world that the feeling of rain on their arms still thrills them. I know you can see your children’s faces too. I know the hysteria within you. I know you feel anger, bitterness even, toward the culprit. You feel hate growing where it is not welcome. Of course we’re afraid. But we must channel it—or else we become committed agents in an obsessive, perpetual cycle of terror. We are not powerless. In fact, it is now that our work is more important than ever.
My responsibility is clear. I need to raise brave children. I need to raise brave children in a world where fear is more communicable than ever.
I need to teach them to love the way that I love them—without restraint. I need to foster within them compassion, fascination, and admiration that are ignited—not dulled—by the beautiful differences among us. I need to encourage them to dance with whomever they want to dance.
I need to raise the kind of children who will love with steadfast determination in a time when even benevolent action seems dangerous, who respect themselves fiercely, and who know that real security is a product of being loved—not of being armed.
My plea is that you’ll endeavour to do the same.
Raising brave children in this scary world might be the best and only weapon we really have against the prejudice growing tall around us—the homophobia, the xenophobia, the hate.
We’re staring at Omar Mateen again. He’s with his wife and his kid, whose face is blurred out. My son is looking at me, eager for an answer, wondering if the bespectacled, innocuous looking man who just perpetrated the largest mass murder in American history, is worthy of a spot on his roster of bogeymen, giant crocodiles, and closet monsters. He isn’t.
“No buddy, that man isn’t scary. That man is scared,” I tell him,
“But he didn’t need to be. Neither do you”.