In our house, the questions usually start when I’m hanging the American flag on the front porch.
What happened? When? Where?
Well, there used to be these buildings in New York City…
Well, a long time ago at a place called Pearl Harbor…
Well, on the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month…
These are not easy conversations. The answers eat away at a child’s belief that the world is filled only with goodness.
The hardest question, always, is, “Why?”
Parents everywhere struggled to explain the senseless shootings in Newtown, CT, to their naturally curious children. Parents everywhere struggled to explain it to themselves.
For me, the tragedy brought to mind William Butler Yeats’s “The Stolen Child,” a moonlit, fever-dream of a poem that exists in the slumbering space between the mortal world and the world of the fairies.
Children who stumble into this supernatural realm can be lured by its residents into staying forever. The faeries whisper temptations:
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
In his statement on the tragedy, Monsignor Jerald A. Doyle, the administrator of the Diocese of Bridgeport (which is currently without a bishop), urged Catholics to “be a true source of assurance of His loving presence in our lives.”
I think that’s right. When delivering the bad news, it’s best to remember the Good News.
There is evil and there is madness—the world is full of weeping—but God loves us. We don’t know why these things happen, but we know His love remains.
At eight, my daughter Clara is now the oldest of four. Like most kids, curiosity is her greatest asset. Occasionally, however, it leads her into emotional territory that she’s ill prepared to navigate.
One night, she looked up from a book and asked, “Dad, what does ‘retarded’ mean?”
“What on earth are you reading?” I said.
“It’s about President John F. Kennedy,” she replied.
I knew at once that she was asking about Kennedy’s younger sister, Rosemary, who was institutionalized by her family after a catastrophic prefrontal lobotomy at the age of 23.
Clara’s younger sister, Magdalena, has Down syndrome. This is not a conversation we looked forward to having with Clara, though we knew the questions would one day come.
I told her what the word meant, and then I told her how some use it to hurt others’ feelings.
“Why do they say it if they know it’s not nice?”
“They think they’re being funny,” I told her. “They don’t realize that they’re actually being very mean.” She just listened, quietly, mulling the notion that one person would be deliberately cruel to another.
“There is ugliness in the world,” I went on. “In fact, there are things far uglier than using a word to hurt someone’s feelings and we can’t always do much to change it.” I wondered who it was I trying to console, me or her.
“The important thing is to remember that God is with you when you feel angry or confused or hurt,” I said, doing my best to be a true source of assurance of His loving presence in our lives.
Every time I have one of these chats with Clara, I die a little. I know I am sowing seeds that will eventually blossom into doubt and, possibly, despair. But evil exists, and there comes a point in a child’s life that she needs to know about it.
There is madness and violence. There is random death and inexplicable cruelty.
But there is also redemption. Jesus suffered in order to save us through the mystery of the resurrection.
There is Good Friday, yes, but there is also Easter Sunday.
Who knows why bad things happen? I certainly don’t. But I know we are called to faith. We are called to surrender ourselves to His will.
For the world’s more full of weeping than we can understand.