I am not qualified to provide commentary about what’s happening in Paris and other parts of the world right now.
I am not even qualified to understand what is happening in Paris and other parts of the world.
I am not qualified to suggest solutions to global terrorism, or even terrorism of the local variety.
I am barely even qualified to read and process commentaries and editorials and blog posts and Facebook rants about any of this.
Only this: I spent all of last week fretting over blocked sinuses (husband’s and mine), headaches (husband’s), virtually sleepless nights (mine), a nasty cough (the girl’s), and a case of hand foot mouth disease (the boy’s). I sanitized and disinfected and sprayed and wiped. I purchased supplements and vitamins and immunity boosters. I diffused, inhaled, and applied essential oils, all in the name of virus deescalation. I worried about duration and exposure, freaked out over every symptom, and probably made the general emotional health in our home worse in the process, but this–this is what I am qualified to do.
We have watched the amazing “Big Hero 6” countless times, and I never cease to be moved by Baymax’s innocent sincerity, his earnest dedication to the task he was programmed to complete. “I cannot deactivate until you say you are satisfied with your care,” he says repeatedly during the story, finally forcing his young friend Hiro to utter these words so Baymax can make the ultimate sacrifice and Hiro can live. I find myself sympathizing with this marshmallow robot, with his unwavering need to keep trying, keep inching toward better, until he is told he’s done enough. Except. Well…I have trouble with “enough.” What is enough, really? The two people in my household capable of spoken language will tell you I have no boundaries. I ask too many questions. I push too many solutions. They mostly roll their eyes and swallow what I am peddling, or they don’t. They answer my incessant questions about their well being with varying degrees of restrained hostility, until they refuse to acknowledge further inquiry. They would agree that it doesn’t matter if they drink the potion, or provide a full report on their state every 30 minutes, or not: I am still afraid Everything is Doomed, until no one is sick or hurt anymore, and then I’m like, WHAT? Am I not allowed to love you? That’s all I’m doing? Would you prefer I JUST DIDN’T CARE? They would assure you I am never dramatic and always fully sane about everything all the time.
We can control so, so very little. Less than we think, even. But how we try. It is both endearing and exhausting, this ruse we pull on ourselves, because while it’s true our intentions are good, the best, it’s also true that they mostly do not change things much. Probably. I really don’t know. If this were a scene from “Sliding Doors” I would miss the train and get back to you on this. I would slog through last week without a three-pack of Clorox wipes, without a can of Lysol surface spray, without herbal immunity drops and Four Thieves oil and black elderberry capsules, and I would let you know if what I can only assume my husband’s belief is true, that we all would have gotten better when we did regardless of my anti-viral blitzkrieg. That may be accurate, but I would have been even more of a wreck than I already was, because who am I if I cannot at least try to repair these people I love? It is like breathing for me, and their distress, even minor, is like emotional asthma. Even when I know there’s not much to be done aside from trying to remain calm and wait for the attack to pass, I have to try anyway. In the rational part of my mind I know these pesky viruses and lingering coughs and weeks of mildly annoying nasal congestion and the like are temporary. We get sick. We get well. We live our lives. I know this is a small thing, this cold or headache or sore throat. I know. The other part of my mind is a lot like Baymax, but without the capacity for deactivation. I see you’re sick there. Something is hurting. Let me help you. Oh, I’ve helped you enough? Well that’s too bad. I can’t deactivate. Ever. Because in the wires that run my machine, love equals protection and help and healing, even though I know I don’t really have the power to do those things.
But then right in the middle of my relief efforts at home, Paris. Another reminder that sometimes life is the kind of messy I cannot clean up, or even mildly relieve, not with Clorox wipes or alternative medicine or all my tears or my whole heart poured out on the ground. Paris, and school shootings, and drunk drivers, and 4th grade bullies, and the list goes on to make sure I remember how in control I am not. What are we supposed to do when people are having dinner, or watching a ballgame, or walking down the street, or learning long division, and in a split second find themselves dodging gunfire or explosives or angry words meant to rip them to shreds? I cannot even process this pain.
This week in a staff meeting I sat through our state’s [poorly timed for my nerves, thanks a lot, North Carolina] required school safety preparedness training video on lockdown procedures, shooter response practices, and survival tactics. Nineteen years ago when I was a brand new teacher watching an early version of this training film, the simulated violence was only mildly unsettling. Then there was Columbine, and the revision that followed was terrifying. With 9/11 came additions to the training that extended beyond the walls and borders of our schools: movie theaters, city parks, shopping centers, tourist attractions. It was scary, but the disturbing feelings usually subsided by day’s end. I was convinced I would always be able to do what needed to be done, to take care of myself. And then I became a parent and a wife, and let me tell you, no training video in the known world could ever prepare me for the way it feels to imagine my own kids and my soulmate in survival scenarios. No lockdown preparedness session or shooter response practice simulation gives me even the slightest amount of security when I think about someone threatening the safety of my family. And I do think about it, because of Columbine and Virginia Tech and Nickel Mine and Sandy Hook. Because of movie theater shootings and church massacres. Because of Paris. Even when my husband provides statistics and analogies and mathematical equations to illustrate how unlikely these things are to happen to us, I think about them anyway.
It is hard to live in the world sometimes, to get up out of bed and walk around with a beating heart that feels feelings, and a functioning mind that sees things and thinks thoughts. There is so much awful out there, so much pain and brokenness, and get this, Jesus said we are supposed to help it, to love it and try to heal it. What? It is so much. It is too much. How in the world is that even possible when the blackness seems to be multiplying exponentially every day? I cannot even process that right now, because I can’t even cure a headache, much less actual broken people. It would be so easy for me to never leave my house, to take the Jonah road and try to distance myself from the unsafe places we are called to nurture. Because inside these walls I can see my kids and my husband, I can reach out and touch them, or listen to their quiet sleep breathing at night, and I can deceive myself into thinking that they are safe because they are here with me under this roof. I can comfort my own beastly fears by trying to comfort them. It is my earnest attempt to control my part of a world that is out of control: bombs are peppering some faraway landscape, let me get you something for that sniffle, gunfire is shattering someone’s silence, I need to feel your forehead, here is some water, madmen are walking into schools and churches and shooting innocent children, swallow this medicine, please be okay, I cannot bear to think of you broken, I cannot cannot cannot deactivate.
There are nights when I barely sleep at all for imagining All The Bad Things that this world could have in store for my kids, my husband. For me. I see these tragedies play out like scenes from movies or news footage or school safety training videos inside my head, and I ache to know how to prevent them. These are my worst nights. These are the nights that lead to terrible, awful days of grasping at every possible straw, every potential element of health and safety and well being of my family I might actually control. And these are the worst days, because I am slammed repeatedly with the reality that so little is in my hands. But when I start with that reality, when I acknowledge and accept and surrender to it, I can sleep a little better and live a little more sanely. I can calmly admit that the entire well being of these people I love does not rest solely on my shoulders. This is a struggle for me, and I lose, a lot. I still feel the need for control more often than not. I ask God to protect us and keep us safe many times a day, and sometimes many times a night, but even in my most faithful moments I know living life involves people, and some people will inevitably act in their messy, evil, hurtful people ways, and I cannot know when our paths will cross. I can only know my own path, and I can try to make sure my kids choose good paths, and even so, sometimes I have no idea where we are going.
But here is something I do know: where we are going is out there, into the world with all those people, whether I like it or not. I know I can choose to be afraid, or I can choose to attempt to respond to brokenness like Jesus instructed us, and let’s be honest, most of the time I am afraid regardless, but there is power and grace in moving forward and believing that no matter what, everything will ultimately be okay. That we will ultimately be okay. I wish I could say that after prayer and proper reflection, I have vowed to stop trying to “rescue” my family from every headache, hangnail, hiccup, and horrible (or not) illness. They wish I could say this also. But I am who I am, and when worlds start falling apart, real or imagined, my Baymaxian tendencies will launch, and I will scan these treasures of mine, these loves of my life, and I will try to tell myself, even as I see them backing away from my good intentions, that even if I have just a fraction of what they need, maybe it will be enough in this moment bring some tiny semblance of repair to a world that is so broken.