I heard the news of the attacks in Paris on the radio as I waited in the carpool line at my children’s school. As my kids piled into the car, I could not hide my tears. They asked me why I was crying. I took a deep breath as they stared. I had one moment to decide how to respond. Do I tell them the truth of what is happening? Or do I lie to protect them?
My children are ten and eight. They live in relative safety, and up until that moment, in the protection of ignorance about many of the world’s horrors. I have shielded them from the knowledge of the events of September 11, for example. I want to foster hope in their hearts so that a belief in the good in the world can still grow strong roots before cynicism can knock it down. I want to give them a chance to enjoy a perspective of the world that we all have a nostalgia for.
But in that moment in the car, I made a decision that it was time to share the truth of what goes on outside our bubble. Because the truth is that there is no bubble anymore. We see this over and over as every corner of our world is threatened by violence, from health clinics to movie theaters to elementary schools.
How do we explain to our children that which we ourselves can barely comprehend? How can we explain the actions of the terrorist mind, either domestic or foreign? How do we explain the reality that we now live in a world where there have been 355 mass shootings in 336 days?
I attempted to explain the violence in Paris that day. My children listened, somber. They had many questions. They wanted to know more. They did not seem afraid. They wanted to watch the news later on TV with me. We stared together at the screen as the dark streets of Paris filled with emergency workers, police officers and soldiers.
Mr. Rogers once said, “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.’” And the truth is, when I described to my kids the people in Paris who were trying to help the survivors, when I told them about the volunteer doctors and nurses who came in with supplies and medicine, and strangers who posted on social media offering their homes as refuge for those in danger, it helped to loosen the sorrow in my own heart.
Instead of offering that there are just bad people in the world, I told them that hurt people hurt people. And sadly, this world seems to have a lot of people in enough pain that they seek to inflict that hurt in the form of random or very specific acts of violence. The religious extremist, the bigot, the mentally deranged mind—however it is qualified, at the root is a soul in enough pain to commit unspeakable acts.
The truth is that hate begets hate, fear begets fear, and violence begets violence. There is no excuse for it. But until we learn how to break the cycle, all we can do in these moments is hold those we love tightly and seek to be those helpers, those beacons of light out there in the dark streets.