Wednesday, August 3, 2011


There are times when the very air seems to tingle with fear. A denseness, an emotional humidity - a hot sense of weight, a feeling of smothering.

A moment of existential dread that permeates the air.

This isn't an acute fear: Oh no, a rabid dog! This is a subtler feeling, worse for its invisibility.

I've never been much prone to it, but I feel it more now as a parent. It's easier to handle the risks of the world for yourself, but for small children?

The news, lately, has been full of triggers. Anders Behring Breivik. A man sets off a bomb, and then, as if killing a bunch of people with a bomb wasn't enough, he walked into a camp of young people, mostly teens, and started a massacre. What struck me about this (aside from the fact that, when online, Mr. Breivik used emoticons - :P - after making jokes about exterminating people, which, if nothing else, is a flashing sign of the coming Internet Apocalypse) was just the faces of the victims. It's interesting to see pictures. A brief news account will have numbers, with whole lives lost between digits. How many memories might be hiding between 7 and 6?

Most of them were very young. One was 14, just a boy. They went off to camp, full of excitement. They walked out their front doors, same as always, and yet they would never come back. Their parents will be waiting forever.

The parents hadn't done anything wrong. And there was nothing they could do. Helpless hands; part of their lives stripped away.


And then there's the Berry story, about a family in a car accident. There's a beautiful part to this story, with the internet campaign that suddenly flashed everywhere to raise money for support of the children (Internet Redemption). But this was only needed because of the sheer suddenness of an accident. A car, an impact, and the parents were dead. The girl, the youngest of the three children, had a number of broken bones. The two boys were both paralyzed. Paralyzed and orphaned.


The parents have left, though not by choice. And yet there's a terrible fear in this for me. That somehow, just when my kids need me most, I won't be there for them. So strange. As a child, I probably had moments of fear: What if I become lost? What if Mommy and Daddy leave? But now I fear that somehow I will be the one to leave, I will be the one who's not there, swallowed by life or death.


My littlest is eighteen months. He's also a handful. Oh, he's a jolly, friendly little guy. But he's hell on wheels, running and climbing everywhere. I call him Evel Knievel for his escape tendencies. And the other day, while heads were briefly turned, he climbed into our car after a door was left open. He happily sat and played while a search went on around him.

But there is, in that moment, a dread. The looming up of the unknown, of chance, of the simple unknowingness of life. With my son it was nothing. Little Evel playing a trick, unknowing himself of what that trick might mean. But life can turn on a moment. The sudden impact of a car; a man walking onto an island with a rifle.

Random and merciless events of the indecipherable present.

And yet we have no choice but to live, to face that unknowingness. There's no way to hide. You need to gather yourself, to tell yourself a story of faith--to convince yourself. We hold to something: a faith in God, a faith in fate, a faith in ourselves, or a faith in the simple probability of hope. We hold to something. A faith in the mathematics of life, that hope divided by despair and dread will somehow equal a positive number.

Little Evel is climbing everywhere these days. I found him the other day, sitting calmly in the middle of the kitchen table, playing, having monkeyed his way up there (rappeling gear, perhaps?). You worry about a fall, you stay alert, you do everything you can - yet sometimes you simply have to trust in their balance.


Matthew MacNish said...

It's a very scary world. As a child I lost both parents, one to death, and the other to unfit parenthood. It was incredibly traumatic, but I managed to survive, and it's nothing compared to the thought of the loss of one of my children, or the idea that they could lose me.

Yesterday I was flying back from Seattle, and we were in some terrible turbulence. I was, of course, fearing for my life, as I always do on a plane, but it helped that I had my daughter next to me, and I could pray for her, instead of only for myself.

Jessica Bell said...

Oh my gosh this post has got me all teary and choked up. I don't have kids, so I have never experienced this sort of selfless dread. But I think I have just been given a glimpse of what it might feel like. I feel a little ill actually. Oh my I can't begin to imagine how heavy that weight is inside your chest. I hope, with time, and with your son growing up and becoming more independent that dread fades. But I've heard it never really does. They'll always be your little baby.

Ted Cross said...

There is no greater fear in life for me than the thought of losing one or both of my sons, but the thought of leaving them behind is almost as bad.

Mieke Zamora-Mackay said...

Wow. How you manage to capture the truth of the emotions in your beautiful words is awe-inspiring.

Rick Daley said...

My older son was born 9/2/11. He was nine days old when the towers fell. My primary thought that day was "What kind of world have we brought our child into?"

I've climbed to the peaks of mountains and jumped from perfectly good airplanes, yet the thought of any harm coming to either of my kids instills a fear in me that I can barely contain. Or maybe it's just love, sometimes it's hard to tell.


Jeffrey Beesler said...

You're right, Bryan. Trying to hide from the world doesn't work at all. I spent the bulk of my 20's (an adult!) hiding from the world, trying to keep myself safe from the pain out there. It only served to bring me much more pain by me not having formed the friendships that I needed back then to help cope with life.

When I become a parent, I'll have to do my best to show my child the world in a very safe way. It's a tough line to toe.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I'm not a parent, so I can't imagine that feeling. There are just things in life we can't control.

Marsha Sigman said...

I know this emotion.

If I think about anything happening to my kids, my chest tightens up and I have to force air into my lungs. I cried reading about the children killed in Norway.

If I keep writing this comment, I think I'll start again. It's a terrible, beautiful thing to be a parent.

D.G. Hudson said...

This is a subject parents don't like to talk about. I can't read about kids being hurt in any way without feeling a tightening in my heart and a lump in my throat. I don't remember feeling this way before having kids.

This strong attachment may be a primal urge that ensures we look after the next generation. I think it's in the bonding between parent and child.

Hollister Ann Grant said...

Interesting post. It's good to realize you live on the edge of the unknown -- we're always sitting on the edge of some cliff, with our feet dangling over the side. A lot of us never realize that until we have a sudden loss.

And as parents, no matter what instinct tells us, we don't own our children and we can't shield them from everything -- we're just their caretakers for a while.

Donna Hole said...

I've seen parents so cripled by Dread, and what could happen to their children once they step out the front door, that the children themselves become paranoid.

But what can you do. Especially after the list of tragedies you mentioned, and those are only a few. So many scary things can happen with the most innocent seeming events.

The thought of someone stealing my child has always been my worst dread.

Thanks for airing such a sensitive topic Bryan. Its good to know others have the same fears.