Letter to My Sons
My Darling Sons,
Today, in the aftermath of a violent, unhinged man holding people hostage in the Lindt chocolate cafe in Sydney, killing two, causing physical injuries to more, and unseen psychological damage to so many more, I am heartsore. In the aftermath of a young, unarmed African American man being shot to death, ostensibly for changing lanes illegally while driving, by Houston police, I’m searching for the humanity in human beings. In the aftermath of the Taliban attack today on a school in Pakistan killing 141 people, I am despondent.
My darlings, as a mother, raising boys to be men is always fraught with questions; how do I imbue you with kindness, empathy, concern for fellow human beings? In the happiest, safest of times these questions play in a constant loop on my mind. It matters to me that you grow to be good people. I take my job as a parent very seriously, and part of that job is my responsibility to you to shape you into the kind of men who appreciate others for their difference, who treat women with the same regard as you would any man you encounter, who are thoughtful and loving and moral, who respect and care for yourselves too.
When devastating incidents occur, I struggle terribly to find the right words to guide you, to find the right messages to show you. When the events are overwhelmingly tragic, when feeling relief that my own friends and family are safe feels like a guilty pleasure, what words adequately convey all that I wish to say? At times like this, the world seems grim, and I want to hold you both close. My instincts scream at me to close ranks, to scoop you protectively under my wings, to keep you safe.
Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.
Dory: Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.
Dory: Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.
I know that I cannot protect you from the world. I know that protecting you from the world will not allow you to grow into the kind of men I will be proud of. So today, I am fighting my instincts, loosening my grip, and letting you venture into the world despite my fears. It feels much as it did when you were first starting to walk and you didn’t want to hold my hand anymore. You were so determined to be independent, so intent on rushing uncertainly into the world. My heart was then, and remains now, balanced on a precipice, a lump lodged in my throat, as I steel myself, let go of your hand, and watch you toddle off to your own adventures.
My loves, before you go, I have one piece of advice. Here in the US, there used to air a TV show called Mr Rogers’ Neighborhood. In it, Mr Rogers told a story of when he was young, and he would see some catastrophe on television, his mother would tell him to “look for the helpers”, and this would help him to see the good people doing good things in times of great adversity.
So when you encounter the ills, the devastations, the cruelties of the world, look for the helpers. Look for ordinary people performing extraordinary deeds in times of strife — there you will find humanity.