The other night as I was lying in my 6-year-old son’s bed, watching him drift off to sleep, a thought seeped into my brain that has been pulling at me ever since: The world would be a better place if we all protected each other the way we protect our own children.
As I listened to the steady rhythm of his breath, images from the news started to steal the sweet silence.
I didn’t see the pictures on the news of the babies in Syria involved in the chemical attacks recently. I can’t bring myself to look because I know I will never be the same again. The reality of a mother like me watching her child die would be branded onto my memory like so many other news events that now come to me at night, filling me with gratitude and overwhelming sadness at the same time.
What if instead of my son snuggling next to me, he were a child from Syria? Shouldn’t I have the same desires and hopes for that child? What if my children were those children — the ones who are innocent victims amidst adult machismo ridiculousness? You’d better believe I’d want to scoop their little faces into my hands, whispering words of love into their scared ears, as I’m sure their own parents actually did if they could.
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I struggle with balancing my desire to protect everyone’s kids with the reality of not being able to do a thing. If I were to act on the mama-bear ferocity I have to protect everyone I hear about on the news, I know it would mean I wouldn’t be a reliable parent to my own kids. But at night as I curl up in my cocoon of privileged safety and peace, I am overcome by an unattainable longing to fix every problem in the world — from hunger to war and everything in between.
I want not only to protect all kids, but all adults who feel hopeless. They too were just babies at one time. The news stories come alive in my head, and I find myself wishing I could sit with a meth addict and tell her she’s worth more or teach an underserved parent the power of reading.
These valiant scenarios my ego paints are nothing more than that. Since I can’t personally save every last person or present them with the fierce heroic protection I wish I could, guess what I do instead. Nothing.
I let my middle-class brain be hijacked by being busy and self-absorbed in my world of making lunches, getting to work on time and balancing a budget. I complain of first-world problems like doing taxes or not finding time to work out. I push the news out of my brain, rationalizing it by telling myself there’s nothing I can do.
Maybe there’s a reason these thoughts come to me at night. Maybe they’re pushing me to action instead of being paralyzed by the enormity.
If it were my life on the news, I would hope someone on the other side of the world or down the street would force herself to tune in, to lean towards the discomfort instead of away from it like I do, and raise her hand to fight for me and my family the way she would do for her own.
Perhaps this desire to protect others the way we protect our own children doesn’t look as noble and self-rewarding as rescuing babies in danger. Perhaps it looks more mundane and quiet like making eye contact with the frazzled cashier and asking if she’s had a good day or volunteering at a homeless shelter and making the residents feel seen.
There is no tidy, easy answer to how to make peace with the fact that as you read this, people are suffering in every corner of the world. I can’t pretend to know how to fix it. I wish I did, but wishing is not merely enough. I do know that each night I feel the hopelessness of the world poking at this mama bear, and I think it’s high time she wake up and start somewhere.
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One of our regular community contributors, Rebecca Rine is a writer living in Kettering with her family. Her work can be found on JaggedJourney.com.