What do we tell the children?

What do we tell them?

What do we tell the children of Gaza as the tears stream down their faces, leaving tracks in the layer of dust that settled on their cheeks after bombs turned their homes into craters?

What do we say to the terrified children of Syria, where the innocent years have been smothered in bombs and blood?

What words are there for the lost and desperate children of the American border, where they stream across in their thousands, running from death, hoping for a new life?

What do we tell them? What can we do?

We see the images on TV, hear the horror even in the refined, detached voices of the men and women assigned to cover it. How can we change the channel? How can we look away?

How can we not, though?

It is easier, safer, to turn away from the horror than to stand up to it. Chores and errands demand our attention. Games and movies beckon. The lawn needs mowing. The baseball team is heating up down the stretch. Football is starting. School is around the corner. Vacation, birthday parties, a trip to the zoo.

All of this is here, in front of us. This is our reality. All we have to do is change the channel. All we have to do is click over to BuzzFeed or Upworthy or Reddit or Facebook.

Get lost in the fun.

Forget the faces. Forget the agony. Forget the blood.

Forget those children.

Hey, sorry. We all have problems.

Besides, they aren’t my children.

But yes.

Yes, they are.

They are mine.

They’re yours, too.

These children? We can’t see their faces, hear their cries, and relegate it to that place in our minds where unpleasant thoughts go to hibernate, waiting to stir when poked and prodded by our demons and thrust into our nightmares.

We can’t do that. We can’t just ignore it. Can we?

But what do we tell them? What can we do?

If I was there, if I didn’t have my own concerns and problems and distractions, if I could drop it all and run to them on the Rio Grande and in Gaza City and Aleppo, I would tell them that there is more.

That this is not all there is in this world, that life is still beautiful. That there are flowers and toys and music. That somewhere on this planet, a kitten purrs and a toddler laughs and laughs.

That even though the world allows little boys to be blown to bits on the beach as they play soccer;

even though men with guns and foul faces force little children to trek across dangerous Central American  fields and treacherous waters in a blind search for something better;

even though it is unspeakably awful now and sadness, despair and anger are their close companions … there is hope.

There is more.

I would tell them: Don’t give up.

You are precious.

And I would take them in my arms and hold them close, and cry with them until our mingled tears soaked the dry and fractured earth.


7 thoughts on “What do we tell the children?

  1. This is one of the most moving pieces I have read in a very long time. Thank you. Thank you pointing out what many of us feel and think, but do not say. It also makes me ask myself what can I do today about any of it…

  2. One thing I always did was to empower my children during the perilous times (when are they not ‘perilous times’) was have them lead the family in prayer with their concerns. Then remind all that through the confusion in which we humans cannot see as having a purpose, God sees all perfect endings clearly.

  3. Not all of us have the luxury of wondering what to tell the children because they know their cousins have been running for bomb shelters and they ask why. Their friends have told them stories about their personal experiences.

    They know kids who lost parents or family members on 9/11 or people who were murdered at ATMs.

    What do we tell them about the relatives who have tattoos on their arms or the stories they know about the family that was wiped out in Europe or elsewhere.

    Well in our family we tell them there are more good people in the world than bad. We tell them we judge others based upon their actions and not race/color/creed.

    But we also tell them that life is rarely black and white and that sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes good people are put in impossible situations and we tell them not to believe everything they read or see on television.

    I can’t speak about other families but it is very real to mine. I have had several conversations about why people say Hitler or was right or chant Jews to the ovens.

    Trying to explain to a teenager why this all happens and offering solutions is very tough.

  4. I have asked the same question…especially after a family of five,the parents and their three young children were trapped and died in a nearby fire. The question of “what can I do?” has haunted me as the 60 other apartment dwellers are now homeless.

    I have decided to help out at a clothes and household distribution center and I pray that the survivors, children and adults will continue to be comforted by the support of the local community. So mnay times after the trauma happens support fades away. I am unsure of how I can keep these people alive in my memory and my actions.

    But the media pictures of the children crossing the border are ones that leave me helpless.

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