As my sons celebrate their birthdays this month — Evan turns 7 and Sean turns 5 — their cognitive reach forces me to more carefully contemplate the lies I tell them and the truths I do not. Preserving the magic of Santa Claus and a legion of fairy tales is one thing. But I find it increasingly difficult to maintain one of the standard parental litanies — that “everything is going to be all right.”
It is one of the crucial roles of a parent to offer stability, security and a sense of hope and well-being. As my sons have grown into their intellects and personalities, my love for them and attachment to them has grown exponentially. I do not care too much about things, but I care about my family, and that love is linked to a vulnerability that is overwhelming and frightening.
Like the protagonist in John Irving’s “The World According to Garp,” I have always been aware of how precious life is — and how ephemeral. That has never been so clear to me as it has been in the past year. My anxiety about Evan and Sean’s safety has always thrummed in my nervous system like a live wire, but it was multiplied on Dec. 14. I was visiting friends in Fort Wayne, Ind., as the news broke that there had been a horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Driving back that evening, listening to media trying to make sense of conflicting reports, I could not intellectually process the concept of 20 murdered first-graders — but I could feel it, like a cold, bony hand squeezing my heart, clamping down with no regard for lasting damage.
I wept for that room of 6- and 7-year-old children, who spent the last moments of their lives panicked, screaming in terror and confusion, cries for moms, dads and teachers unanswered. And that grief stayed with me the next time I comforted my sons with the words, “Everything’s going to be all right.”
For I knew that every one of those Sandy Hook Elementary children had heard the same promise, countless times, from well-meaning parents who believed the words as they said them. How many times did Andrew, Alexander and Tanner Skelton hear those words? How many times did Ke’Ondra Hooks hear those words? How many times did Brian Hoeflinger hear those words? How many times did Martin Richard hear those words? How many times did Kaitlin Gerber hear those words? How many times did the children at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., hear those words? How many times did Elaina Steinfurth hear those words?
If I know that those words, no matter how much effort I put into believing them, are ultimately a lie, how do I go on saying them?
I know the deceptions around the childhood myths will end, and my boys will probably be ready for that transition before I am. But that ultimate lie, “Everything will be all right,” mocks my efforts to do everything I can to keep my children safe and sound.
And yet, when I hold them, soothe their hurt feelings and dress their wounds, I still believe that lie, as I must if I am going to sell it to them. And knowing they believe it — for now — perpetuates the life cycle of the words, as they leave my lips and enter their ears. And as I love them, and they return that love — for now — I understand that when I say “Everything is going to be all right,” I am not lying, because I do not mean “ … for now.”
Because despite the lightning strikes of stray bullets, aimed bullets, pressure cookers packed with explosives, tornadoes and bad choices that offer no second chances, my faith in God offers the hope that everything will be all right. Not here, not with jackals like Adam Lanza and Ariel Castro personifying satanic chaos. But forever, in the light of eternal love and hope, I believe everything will be all right. I know I cannot protect my sons from everything, but I can prepare them for anything by instilling in them the message that there is more to life than our corporeal state, that there is hope, that there is love, that no matter what happens to us on Earth, there will be a state of spiritual being in which everything … will … be … all … right.
That sounds more like a prayer than a truth, which may be the greatest testament to faith — and ultimate truth — I can offer.
A graduate of Toledo Libbey High School and the University of Toledo, Michael Miller is co-founder and Editor in Chief of Toledo Free Press, Lucas and Wood County’s largest Sunday newspaper. Michael has worked as an editor in Washington, D.C., and edited publications in Pittsburgh, San Jose, Calif. and Miami, Florida. His syndicated column, “Lighting the Fuse,” has been published in more than 40 national newspapers since 1999. In 2002, a book compiling Michael’s columns was published by American City Business Journals. Michael has won more than two dozen industry awards, including the National Society of Newspaper Columnists Humor Columnist of the Year for 2002 and was named third-best columnist in Ohio at the 2009 Society for Professional Journalists awards. He is a Toledo “20 Under 40” recipient and the youngest living member of the Toledo Libbey High School Hall of Fame. Michael and his wife Shannon have a 7-year-old son, Evan, and a 5-year-old son, Sean.by