Last night I read the reports of Paris and Beirut with tears on my cheeks. Just moments before I had told my boys, “Hey did you know it’s Friday the 13th?” The words now sounded like an ominous warning, my last couple seconds of oblivion.
I didn’t try to hide my tears from my kids. My voice catching as I recited a watered down version of events.
“Careful,” Justin warned me gesturing toward the boys.
Max came over and gave me a big hug, melding his little body into my own. Josh continued doing headstands behind me.
My boys are obviously too young to know all the details of exactly what happened. But I want all my children to know that it did. I want them to feel compassion and respect for those that lost their lives, or are wounded. They need to feel empathy for the ones still living that love those that no longer are. I want them to know what terrorist means, not so they can live in fear, but so they have a bigger view of the world and what the people in it have to endure. They need to know the world is bigger than their safe homogeneous neighborhood.
When I was 11 my parents took me to Dachau. The images that I saw there are ingrained on my mind and heart. There are specific pictures that I can still visualize at will. I left that place of horror heartsick. Books like Number the Stars, Anne Frank – The Diary of a Young Girl, Summer of my German Soldier, and The Hiding Place found their way into my hands. These books taught me about the faith, courage and selflessness that good people found at their core in the face of horrific evil and pain. They need to know that courage and goodness is possible in any circumstance.
Last Wednesday while making plans to meet friends at the park, I realized it was Veteran’s Day. I quickly canceled my park plans and told my children I would pull them out of school in a couple of hours.
We made it just as the parade was beginning and volunteers were passing out small American flags to all the children.
I looked each of my children in the eye, “There probably won’t be a lot of candy at this parade, and that’s OK. I want you to cheer super loud anytime you see a soldier and scream thank you. Got it?”
My kids were up to the challenge and brought tears to my eyes with their enthusiasm. Although Josh’s shrill whistle did leave me with a slight headache. The crowds lining the route were thin. School was in session, work had to be done. Very few veterans smiled as they passed by; mostly elderly, in full uniform, straight and proud.
When we first moved to St. George 5 years ago there was a WWII veterans float in the parade. Each year the numbers in that float got thinner. This year it was gone. The greatest generation is leaving us. My children need to know who they are and what they did.
They need to know that new veterans are created everyday.
On the way back to the car we walked through the cemetery and read the headstones adorned with American flags, “The cowboy and the lady,” “Beloved father”. Hundreds of stories.
After school Josh came home excited to show me a clip that they had watched in class about veterans. I cried again as he leaned against me and we watched it together.
“What was your favorite part of the parade?” I asked.
“The candy!” yelled Max.
“Umm the soldiers and the candy.” said Anna
“The soldiers.” said Josh.
They are beginning to know.