July 29, 2014

As I write this on a gorgeous, sunny –and dry—70-degree day in July (!), I am feeling happy and grateful and not at all grumpy like I normally am this time of year in Tennessee. I know I complain a lot about things I can’t change such as the climate where I live, and I do a fair amount of it here on the blog, but I am highly susceptible to mood swings that depend on the weather. It’s just who I am. It’s probably the reason I spent 12 years happily living in Colorado and could have seen myself living there the rest of my life. But I am glad I moved here. For many reasons, not the least of which is the beautiful family I have and the idyllic lifestyle we live which I am reminded of every single day.

I feel particularly grateful lately as I watch the news of so many atrocities happening around the world. The bombing in Gaza, the violent shooting of the airliner from the sky in Ukraine, the two-hour execution (and others like it) in Arizona, the child refugees at the border searching for a better life and being turned away, the endless school shootings…it’s enough to make you really question our existence and get pretty overwhelmed with sadness.

Some people deal with these realities by turning off the TV and the computer, by turning a blind eye to the world and focusing on their own little universes and the small things they can do to produce good in the world. That’s wonderful. I wish I could that. I am cursed with a need to know, an almost masochistic torture where I force myself to watch and to read about what’s going on in the world. I think I inherited this from my dad. He is a voracious reader and media consumer. Some of my earliest memories are of hearing the theme song to the nightly news and seeing him read the newspaper. He still does. He’s very well informed and a very compassionate human being. He gets involved, too. He volunteers every week feeding the homeless, he has arguments with co-workers about politics and he never misses his opportunity to vote.

My mom, on the other hand, had a spirit and generosity that was more local. She was a kindergarten teacher and touched the lives of many, many children who loved her, and she helped her friends and neighbors all the time. I remember her saying, as she was dying of cancer, “I wish I could do more to help people.”

So I guess it’s no surprise that I’m a bleeding heart and compassionate to a fault. It’s also interesting to see how it is affecting my daughter who watches and learns from everything we do, whether we realize it or not. But is this a bad thing? I wonder, when I watch the news sometimes while making dinner and she plays in another room or helps me in the kitchen, listening all the while. Or whether our morning ritual of having breakfast, drinking coffee while listening to NPR in the kitchen is somehow bad for her. Am I exposing her to too much atrocity and sadness? Does she become afraid when she sees the look on my face or the tears in my eyes?

I used to worry about this, but lately I have decided to embrace my compassion and not hide it from her. After all, isn’t one of our most important jobs as parents to model kindness and empathy for our kids? I am just being real. I am not interested in creating a make-believe world to shelter her from bad things. Of course, I don’t want her to have nightmares and worry about death, but at the same time, she is old enough and, I believe, sophisticated enough already to understand that there is both good and bad in the world and how lucky we are to live where we live, while other children in other parts of the world are not so lucky. I want her to know this.

So it is with pride and a tinge of sadness that I field her questions “Where is that? And how close is it to here?” (about the violence in Gaza). That’s when I pulled out the world atlas and showed her on the map where it was and explained to her about the geography of the middle East.

When she told me she had named her newest doll "Gaza," I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or to cry.

And when she overheard on the news that there was a shooting and a mother and her child were injured and asked where that was, I told her that it was in downtown Nashville, only a few miles from where we live. But we are safe here, I assured her.

Some people may question my motives in exposing my child to so much at such an early age. And I could be wrong, but I tend to believe that in the long run, it will make her a more compassionate and caring person. She already knows about Kenya (where her auntie Neena worked last year helping women and children), she knows what war is and that it is happening in several parts of the world, and she knows that the young girl across the street who came to our door on a cold winter night because her aunt wouldn’t let her in the house was a lot less fortunate than us but not because of anything she did wrong.

As one of my favorite writers, Anne Lamott says:

We stitch together quilts of meaning to keep us warm and safe, with whatever patches of beauty and utility we have on hand. We help each other laugh, against all odds. Barry Lopez was right: after all is said and done, all we have are Compassion and stories. 

It’s so true.

I’ll keep being emotional and connected to the world in front of my child because I can’t do it any other way.  And hopefully, it will be something she remembers (and likes) about me when she’s older.