Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Finding Hope in the Midst of Tragedy

The events in Japan almost two weeks ago have been enough to shell shock all of us. If you're like me, the images from over there have been hard to stomach. The numbers of those affected have been overwhelming to say the least and it's seemed surreal that life here in my home has continued to go on as usual while so many lives have been changed forever half a world away.

As I've went about my day to day life I've found myself thinking about the people in Japan (and in other places where natural disasters have hit and caused devastation like Haiti or New Orleans) and what they must be doing. How will their lives ever be normal again? What can be done to help them? What can be done in the future? I've also wondered, as a mom, how do I handle these situations when my son gets old enough to ask about them? What can I say to him when he asks me why these things happen?

Those are big questions and I'm sorry to say I don't have definitive answers for any of them. When it comes to physical aid, there are resources on-line to help you. (Older children can even help you determine the ways in which your family can help. Here's a link to get you started.) However, the more philosophical questions are especially troubling for me. What can I say when my son gets old enough to ask "why" about things that I don't know the answer to? It's one thing to explain the science of global climate change or earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. It's another to answer the emotional "why's."

In the meantime, however, my son is only a year and half and his schedule has been largely unaffected by events a world away. At the library last week, we checked out books (my boy is a voracious book listener). Because he is currently obsessed with balloons (a by product both of his increased speaking skills and my birthday two weeks ago), we checked out the book The Yellow Balloon. If you haven't seen the book before (and I wouldn't blame you if you haven't), it's a little like "Where's Waldo." There are no words, just different complex scenes on every page and together you try to find the yellow balloon wherever it is hidden. Sometimes, the balloon is pretty obvious and you find it quickly, sometimes the scene is very, very complicated and the balloon is very tiny and hard to find. My son and I had a blast finding the balloon on every page, and even when both of us would be frustrated, we kept going because we knew that somewhere on that page there was a yellow balloon. When my husband got home, we shared the book with him, but he was less than impressed. On every page, in every scene, rather than focusing on the yellow balloon, my husband kept looking for scenes of impending doom or mayhem. Even when I looked at the same images and mentioned that each scene might have some hope in it, he seemed more distracted by his perception of chaos than the hope found in the yellow balloon. (For example, in one scene a ship wrecks, but on the next page, the crew is being helped. My husband claimed that it had to be new people being helped because clearly the whole crew would probably be dead.)

It wasn't until much later in the evening that it occurred to me that what my husband was doing with that book was exactly what I (and many others) have been thinking about the events in Japan. The truth is that there are just some events so awful that there is no answer of "why" that we can accept or understand. As a mother, I can't ever answer those larger philosophical questions adequately when my son asks them. He will have to wrestle with them just as much as I do. What I can do, however, is teach him to look for the hope (no matter how slight) in even the most awful and chaotic situations. I can teach him to honor the survivors of natural disasters and to grieve with them. I can teach him to rejoice when those presumed dead are found alive. I can teach him to learn what lessons can be gleaned from tragedies. I can teach him to embrace the joy of living even in the face of tragedy. I can teach him to do what he can when he can and to not lose hope when he can't fix everything and doesn't have all the answers. I can teach him to embrace the yellow balloon.

Thanks for reading,
Connected Mom, Shawna


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