When the Unthinkable Happens
The news far away and close to home is often unbelievably tragic. This summer I took a nap and had a nightmare about an acquaintance whose son had recently died. I couldn’t find any words to say to him and woke up panicked. Especially since one of our kiddos tripped and fell into a lake the day before my dream. (All was fine: it was very shallow and said kid was quickly plucked out of said lake by the supervising adult). But still.
We watch a kid get pulled around by gorillas or hear about a child attacked by an alligator. We know that sometimes kids just don’t wake up, or pull a dresser on top of themselves, or get kidnapped, or get cancer, or drown. And we desperately want to blame someone. I read somewhere that we do this because if we blame someone, if these tragedies are someone’s fault, then we think they can’t happen to us.
Blaming parents for not watching their children closely enough or condemning their sleeping arrangements or the chemicals they’ve allowed their kids to ingest via processed foods allows us to think that the tragedy that pervades this world can’t happen to us if we simply control all the factors. It allows us to believe we can avoid pain if we just work hard enough.
But sometimes, no matter how many precautions we take, the unthinkable happens. It is unthinkable when a child is killed by a wild animal or doesn’t wake up or is taken by a stranger or cancer. But these are all incredibly rare. We are putting our kids in much more danger each and every time we buckle them into their carseats than when we visit a zoo or put them to bed or let our 6-year olds get the mail by themselves.
And of course we should take reasonable precautions to keep all these things from happening. Of course we should be responsible parents. But when the unthinkable does happen, when tragedy does occur, let’s remember that we can’t right all the wrongs by being good enough parents. Let’s practice grace and compassion toward parents instead of blaming them for not doing things differently (I’m talking mistakes here, not criminal acts).
Because the unthinkable does happen sometimes. And we can respond to this reality by letting fear hijack our joy, by becoming so frightened of the possibilities we became paralyzed in our lives. Or we can desperately cling to the trustworthy One who promises to be with us always.