As almost everyone is aware at this point, some person or group, for some unknown reason, exploded two bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon yesterday, killing three people and injuring over 140 more. Thankfully, no one in our family or close community was involved, though our hearts go out to those who were.
Like many parents last night, my wife and I decided that we needed to proactively discuss the events with our four children, ages 4, 6, 9 and 12. Not surprisingly, in an era of text messages, ubiquitous internet access and 24-hour news coverage, our two older children were already aware of the general outline of the events by the time we reached the dinner table, not 4 hours after the explosions took place. They were predictably afraid and confused, and their feelings of vulnerability were accentuated by the fact that we live in the Boston area, about 30 minutes drive from Copley Square. As much as we wanted to keep the kids in their innocence bubble, playing legos and knee hockey without a care in the world, we decided that an honest, direct and positive approach was best.
First, like any parent acting on instinct, we tried to make them feel safe. We reiterated that even though this had happened in Boston, our small town just outside the city is safe and that Mommy and Daddy would do our best to protect them. As we were discussing it, my six-year old boy climbed up onto my wife’s lap for an extra dose of that love and protection. Cruelly, I was reminded of the 8-year old boy who died earlier that day and how a hug couldn’t have actually protected him physically. My heart went out to his parents and the sense of desperation, sorrow and helplessness they must be feeling. I know they would give anything for the opportunity to give their boy that hug.
Second, we tried to help them understand why people do things like this, even though we don’t completely understand it ourselves. We explained that there are people in the world who are jealous of the wealth and freedom in America or who feel that America is inappropriately meddling in their affairs. We explained that even within this country there are people who disagree with the way things are and who are crazy enough to take their grievances outside of the normal public discourse.
Third, we tried to give our children perspective by reminding them that, as middle-class American kids living in a cosmopolitan metro area, they are incredibly fortunate and safe relative to kids in places like Iraq, Afganistan, Lebanon or any number of other countries or regions. This might seem like an overly rational or theoretical argument for a pre-teen child but we felt that kids are more capable of comprehension than we give them credit for and that even if they didn’t fully appreciate the point, it is worthwhile for them to appreciate their good fortune relative to the majority of the world.
Finally, we reminded them of the inherent goodness in most people in the world. We reminded them that even though this event happened very near to us, the people in Copley Square that day were there to challenge themselves and to celebrate that challenge and healthy competition together as a community. And we told them about how, in the seconds after the explosions, the policemen, firemen, paramedics and other first-responders on the scene were literally rushing AT the fire and smoke in an effort to help the victims, with little thought for their own safety. True heroes.
A message to the person or people who committed this or any other act of terror: you can pop our innocence bubble but we, and our kids, will emerge stronger, with more perspective and more inspiration than ever to pursue our lives, our liberty and our happiness.