Our quiet little county has had its fair share of storms lately. In the past six weeks we’ve seen two teenagers lose their lives in acts of violence, a father ran a hose from the exhaust of his truck into a bedroom where he was eventually found dead with his twin 3 year old daughters, and a local woman was stabbed to death by a man she had befriended. All of these acts were unrelated except for the sadness they each brought to their family and friends and our community. I guess they also shared a common thread in the reminder that, even in a quiet community, bad is present.
Through these events, I’ve come to realize why I often wish our boys would get stuck in time - why I daydream of them forever living in the land of pre-school and bedtimes stories and unending giggles that come from something as simple as tossing a stuffed angry bird around the living room. That world has no bad guys outside of the ones they imagine and quickly vanish with the aid of superheroes that most of the time I’ve never heard of. They live in a world where bad is a game. It’s no more threatening than hide and seek or tossing a ball in the yard. It’s a world where Santa and the Easter Bunny are real – and bad isn’t. And what I wouldn’t give to keep them there.
Any hopes I had that they might live in that world forever were recently dashed. I imagine I felt like God felt when Adam and Eve discovered evil in the garden of Eden and deprived us all of an endless age of innocence. But we were headed to church last Sunday when Elliott asked us if bad guys were real. When they shoot people do the people really die? Would the bad guys come in the back yard when he’s back there playing?
I’m sure we told him a lot of the right things: Yes, there are bad people - but not many. Our neighborhood is safe; we even have a police officer for a neighbor. God gives little kids parents so they will be protected. We told him to scream if a stranger approaches him when we’re not around. To run in the house if someone comes near him that he doesn’t know. We told him all the things we thought might bring him some sense of security in his new world – the one that has real bad guys. All the while I lamented the end of a dark secret.
There is a bright side to the story. Either Ian didn’t catch on to the theme of the story Elliott was uncovering, or if he did, a world full of bad guys seemed more exciting than frightening to him.
When we had finished our conversation with Elliott, pretty close to the part where we told him to run inside if he encountered a bad guy and mom and dad would call the police, Ian suddenly seemed interested in the discussion.
“I’m not going to run inside,” he said.
“Why not,” I asked.
“Because I’m going to stay and help the policeman fight the bad guys.”
And that’s Ian. Never one to conform. Never one to back down from an opportunity to be on the opposite side of the fence of his brother.
Earlier this week we were playing ball on one of the college athletic fields near the train tracks. When an Amtrak train came along, Katie told the boys that I would be taking one of those trains to a meeting I have to go to this week. She was trying to get them excited about my trip. Unfortunately, we hadn’t told them about it yet and Elliott didn’t respond well to the surprise. He cried at the first word of the news. He cried all the way home and long after we got there. It took several cups of apple juice, a few trips around the track on his DS game and about a half an hour to pass before he finally seemed OK.
About that time, I was cooking dinner. Ian was sitting at the kitchen table eating a snack, when he made his first comment about the news: “Daddy, I want you to go, that’s why I didn’t cry.”
In some Ian sort of way, I’m sure that wasn’t meant to hurt my feelings. In fact, I’m sure it was more to point out that Elliott cried and he didn’t. And it was Ian being Ian so my feelings were just fine. But he had this smirk on his face that troubled me. It was a look I recognized but couldn’t place at the time, but it would come to me later when I was watching TV. That look appeared on our screen above the fireplace as a cruel reflection of the look in the kitchen. If you watch below, it’s likely you won’t recognize it like I did, but you can at least get a taste of it.