I had the following conversation in the car on Monday morning, as I drove L. off to school--I imagine lots of parents around the world were having similar ones:
L.: Did you hear what happened?
L.: You know, what happened.
Me (I'm foggy in the morning): I'm not sure.
L.: The news about Osama bin Laden!
Oh, THAT news.
We've given up trying to keep L. from checking on the news. When I was his age, I used to read the front page of the Washington Post, and the news would set my mind spinning a million different ways, but I still read it. We've told L. to talk to us if something bothers him about the news, and I think that while most of what goes on in the world passes him by, he does engage us when something troubles him. I think you have to gauge your own child's ability to process the news and decide accordingly how much to limit your child's exposure to all of this. We were very conservative with L., and definitely limited what he had access to, until it became clear that he wanted to know--he needed to know so that he could understand what the kids were talking about at school. I have long gotten over my shock about just how much some kids do know about the news and, unfortunately, most of what they know ends up being shared at school, whether you like it or not.
As it turned out, L. had heard about bin Laden's death on the radio, while he was waking up to the classical music station he listens to at night, and in the morning. The news was just too big to contain. I was prepared to talk with L. about how bin Laden was killed, and why, but not so much for his next flurry of questions: L. wanted to know, what is evil? Where does it comes from? Is evil bin Laden? Did his death mean an end to evil in the world? An end to war? Why wasn't he arrested? If bin Laden had killed one person, instead of thousands, would he still be evil?
How do you look your child in the eyes and answer, honestly, such questions? There are the rote, scripted answers that are the easy ones; the ones we are tempted to feed our kids, the cop-out answers that might quiet them for awhile. But, eventually, the questions will still fester inside of them; they will turn these questions around and look at them a hundred different ways and still feel restless, still feel worried, still afraid.
As I am. As we all are, I think. I don't know where evil comes from. I wish I could point it out in the street--look, there it is! Evil looks like THAT! Watch out!--and steer my children around it as easily as I might a parked car, or a barking dog. There is the type of poisonous evil that spreads across the innocent as well as the guilty; the kind of evil that staggers the world, makes us gasp out loud; yet there is also the insidious, dark evil that shatters families, destroying the safety and happiness of their worlds, while the rest of us move on, oblivious to their pain.
There's just so much of it everywhere, at every turn. How do we measure it?
One man's death is no guarantee of anything at all--except, tragically, the deaths of many more. What will evil look like then?
What answers can I give my children, if I struggle for the answers for myself?