What I accidentally said to my kids about evil; Givers, Takers and Star Wars books.
My children are lovely, really, some of the time. And I'm a good mom, for some portion of every day. Sometimes everyone is in a good mood right from the start of the day. Sometimes we get ready for school and the sun is shining and the birds are chirping and all of the reading logs are filled out and already packed and kisses and hugs are given in abundance with ample time to make it to school before the bell. But sometimes we wake up grumpy and tired and we say things we don't mean over breakfast. Sometimes the thought of being late makes me short tempered with little people who process time differently than I do. Sometimes I yell and then they yell. Most of the time I blame myself. MeaCulpa. Sometimes we get in the car and they are fighting over who had the Star Wars book first.
In light of the horrific event that happened in Las Vegas this week I've been thinking a lot about how to talk to my children about evil. A peculiar thought entered my brain earlier this week while looking at my own precious children and it just won't leave me. It's not that I fear for their safety (but I've certainly thought that too and I have hugged them a little tighter this week.) And it's not that I worry about their innocence being shattered when they hear of horrible events like this (but yes, I've thought about that a great deal too). No, what I can't get out of my head is this one perplexing thought;
Stephen Paddock was once a child too.
And not just him, all those numerous (way way too numerous) individuals who have personified evil for us throughout time. They were all children. They all had/have lives and homes and families and hopes and dreams.
Don't get me wrong, it's not that that thought relieves their guilt or makes me feel some unwarranted compassion. I do not. I find it hard to even pray for them (though I do). And it's not a sensational obsession with focusing on the killer rather than the victims. There is something about the human capacity for evil though that justifies a few moments of thought. How does it happen? When does it start? Is it always there? The thought perplexes me. It chills me.
What was he like as a 3 year old? Did he ask 'why' a thousand times? What about at 6? Did he need help with his homework at night? What was he like at 9? Did he have friends? Did his voice squeak when he turned 12? Was he nervous on his first day of high school? Did his palms sweat when he asked a girl out for the first time?
And then, I think of his mother.
I think we all comfort ourselves with the thought that if we look back at their lives we can find the point where it all went wrong, and maybe we can. Maybe it was drugs or mental illness or abuse, or some circumstance of their adulthood that caused them to snap. Still, I think the media becomes obsessed with the criminals because the thought almost cannot fit into our own heads that someone who had a relatively normal life, with normal parents, someone who was a child once, could be capable of such a thing. We watch because we want to find something, anything, that assures us this will not happen to us, something that tells us how different we are from these monsters...who were once children, like us.
As we got in the car and they were fighting over the book I couldn't help but think these things. How is it possible that a human being that started out as a child as sweet and mischievous as mine could be capable of such acts? "Mom, he took the book from me!" "I did not! and it's MY book anyway!" "Did you take it from him?" "Yes, but it's mine and I want it." "I want to read it right now and it's mine so I can."
Maybe it wasn't the right time to bring up Las Vegas. Maybe I never should have. But this is how I finally, accidentally, decided to talk to my kids about this weeks evil:
"Boys, do you know what makes us different from animals?"
"Well, lots of things make us different but one of the most important things is that as humans we are able to reflect and think of anothers well being, even before our own. We are able to love with our whole being."
<more perplexed looks>
"Let me ask you this, if two dogs haven't eaten in a couple of weeks and you place a steak before them, what do you think would happen?
<giggles> "They would fight fight! Rip each other to shreds!"
"Yes, they will follow their instincts, to survive. Thats what animals do. And if you took a person who hasn't eaten in 2 weeks and placed a meal before them and a stranger next to them who needed it more, they would have the ability to deny themselves and help the person next to them."
"Animals sometimes do amazing things to help us and they make our lives fun and bring us lots of joy, but they cannot reflect on the good of another and choose a selfless act for the sake of love. Thats what makes us human."
<growling and snarling in the back seat like puppies>
"Now, I'm sure you may have heard at school that a horrible thing happened this weekend in Las Vegas where a man took many people's lives." (I tried to be as vague as possible)
<eyes as big as saucers>
"...and it's ok to feel sad and a little scared when we hear of things like that in the world. It's hard to believe that a human being is capable of such bad things but there's something I want to tell you about that. As you get older you will hear more stories of people who choose to do evil. You may even see some of these things with your own eyes. These people are takers. They take life and security and peace and goodness. But in each of these situations there are always many many more people who choose good. These people are the givers. In Las Vegas, many people were afraid for their own life but chose to help others at the risk of their own safety, even their own life, and since then, thousands of people have chosen to give help or money or blood. Good always wins and it's our job to learn how to be part of the good, how to be a giver because thats what makes us the most fully human that we can be! Now, most likely you won't have to risk your life for someone today, you may never have to, but we become givers in many many ways and we start with tiny acts of giving; by talking to a friend who is sad, by volunteering to help when we could otherwise play, by letting our brother read our favorite book, even when we really want to read it ourselves."
<pause....are they still listening?>
"Ok mom, he can read it."
"Can we listen to the radio now?"
Tiny steps moms, tiny steps.
Do I think my children are capable of evil? Of course not. They are loved and cared for and lead full, happy, silly lives. But that doesn't mean I will stop trying to teach them how to be good, courageous, selfless, 'fully human' members of the world. Will they make bad decisions in their lives? Yes, undoubtedly. All we can do is to keep learning how to be givers ourselves and to keep giving and to try to teach them the best we can along the way.
I am reminded of Saint John Paul II's words "Man Cannot Fully Find Himself, Except Through A Sincere Gift Of Himself." What makes us human is that we are givers. We understand what we are made to be by looking to Christ who died for us so that we could live eternally. THIS is the universal call to holiness, our call to be saints.. and saints change the world. This lesson is first and foremost for us as parents. For me. This job of raising little humans is big and daunting and many pressures come a long with it. It's easy to feel like the amount of giving required is too much, that we will lose ourselves in the process. But its in the giving that we find ourselves! And its in the giving that we teach our children how to be givers. I keep forgetting that. I am thankful for all of the givers who have reminded me again this week.