Friday, August 7, 2009

"Is She Gonna Die?"

On Wednesday as we were driving home from a lovely play date at the park, I realized my gas light was on, so we pulled into the tiny gas station in Morrison to fill up. I rolled the windows down before I turned the car off to prevent my little Flowers in the back seat from wilting in the heat.

While we waited for the tank to fill, the station attendant walked onto the porch a few feet from our car. She was tiny--barely filling her blue jumpsuit--but strong, scrappy. It was difficult to gauge her age: fifties? She could have been older or younger. Her skin had the weathered tone of a smoker, but her hair was lovely: long and blonde, if a bit dry. She looked like a woman who had been beautiful in her youth but who had seen enough of life to know she'd better hold her own because no one else would do it for her. I watched her pull out a cigarette and wondered how she had ended up here.

I also wondered if Ben had noticed her and if he'd have any comment about the cigarette.

A few weeks prior, he had asked me about the "white sticks that blow steam out of your mouth." He must have seen someone smoking somewhere when we were out. I explained that they're called cigarettes, that it's actually smoke that comes out them, and that they're not really good for our bodies. This statement, of course, led to a barrage of "why" questions (his favorite kind), so I gave the preschool explanation of cancer: "Well, when people smoke cigarettes, it actually puts smoke in their lungs, which isn't good for lungs. Sometimes, the smoke causes things to grow there that aren't supposed to, and when enough of these things grow, they can make us very sick. Sometimes, people's lungs get so sick they have trouble working and breathing properly."

I was content to leave it at that, but Ben was not. "What happens if they don't work anymore?" he continued. I figured a direct, honest answer was best. "They can die," I said simply. He has a basic understanding of the concept of death from watching the cycle of life in our yard: the flowers, the bugs, the many animals that entertain us with their presence throughout the day. They appear and disappear, protect and attack, move and lie still. I hoped this answer would satisfy him.

"And they can make Jesus smoky," he added earnestly. Like I mentioned in a previous post, he has this visual of Jesus hanging out in his stomach. He does have a point, though: if our bodies are God's temple, then whatever we do to ourselves (and more importantly, each other), we do to Him. "Yes, they can make Jesus smoky," I validated. The conversation ended here and hadn't come up since.

So we sat in the car in the gas station in Morrison, enjoying the sun and the breeze as we settled down from our morning of play and headed home for naps. I looked back at Ben and noticed he had, indeed, seen the woman and was watching her intently.

Which is when he asked audibly and matter-of-factly, "Mommy, is she gonna die?" He was still watching her; in fact, he hadn't even looked at me when he asked it.

Glancing at the woman, I quickly responded in a low voice that if we want to ask questions about people, it's probably best to do it quietly or after we're not around them so they don't get embarrassed, and then I promised to address his question as soon as we left the gas station. As I finished this instruction, she coughed, as if on cue--a long, low, gasping kind of cough, a smoker's cough.

So as we pulled back onto the street and headed up the Canyon, I addressed as honestly as I could his questions about mortality: "Well, Sweetie, we're all going to die eventually, but if you're asking if she's going to die sooner because she's smoking, I don't know. Did you hear her cough? It sounds like her lungs are pretty sick."

"Am I going to die?" he asked curiously.

"Someday," I responded casually.

"Are you going to die?" he continued, un-phased.

"Yes, but probably not for a long time," I reasoned.

"Why?" he continued.

Always with the why! So we talked about life, and heaven, and Jesus, and how Jesus can be in heaven and in everyone at the same time. Mortality and divine ommipresence in a fifteen minute drive...I need more degrees for this job.

At some point, from the other side of the back seat, I hear Abby's sweet little voice say in complete naivete, "Mommy die?"

I navigate uncertainly through these murky waters, daily: desiring to be as forthcoming as appropriate without alarming them; reassuring them they're safe while teaching them about danger; discussing other people's decisions and consequences candidly, hopefully without judging; giving them the information they need to make their own choices without lecturing or preaching.

Someday he may be offered a cigarette, or something worse, and I want him to think about his lungs and his body and his valuable life and the lady at the gas station, not my voice saying, "You shouldn't smoke."

A few minutes after our conversation, the car swaying with the twists and turns of the mountain road, the strings announcing Peter's presence as we listened to Peter and the Wolf on the iPod, Ben said, "Mommy, when I grow up, I'm not going to smoke cigarettes." "Okay," I replied neutrally. Inside, I smile slightly and say a quick prayer that he remembers this in ten years. "And I'm going to drive a motorcycle." Well, at least he's a firm believer in helmets.

This is his life. These are his decisions. I won't be able to make them for him, so I pray I equip him with the confidence, the experience, the information, and the love he needs to make these choices wisely. And I pray that we get to share a lot of years of life together before we greet our own mortality, because without doubt, we're all gonna die.

No comments:

Post a Comment

I love comments!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin