"But Mommy, why don't they want people driving on their road?" Ben asked as we turned the car away from the street with the "No Trespassing" sign.
"Well, maybe they want to make sure no one drives up there who might want to cause trouble," I suggest, not entirely sure why the "No Trespassing" sign would be necessary on a road so far from civilization.
"But Mommy, a bad guy could still just drive up there," Ben reasons, the boy who always looks for the way around the obstacle. Someday he'll win a chess tournament. Or cure cancer.
"Yes, a bad guy could just drive up there, but probably there aren't too many bad guys around who want to drive up there. Probably there are just people like us who are hoping to get a closer view of the buffalo," I reason back.
"But what if a bad guy just drove up there?"he presses.
"Well, then the people who live there would probably call the police, and the police would come protect them,"I say.
"Do the police have ropes to tie him up?" he asks.
"No, but they have handcuffs," I say.
"Would they use their guns to shoot the bad guy?" Ben asks.
"Not unless they feel someone is in danger. The best police officers are the ones who hope they never have to use their gun," I say, my stomach turning over at the thought of guns and violence and destruction, even in defense of the innocent.
It's a new phenomenon, this stomach-turning response to pain in the world, whether "deserved" or not--a product of motherhood and the unsettling realization that all bad guys are people; that all villains came from someone, somewhere; that there are always miles leading to a particular outcome.
In the car a few days earlier, I listened to a segment on NPR about how the children of Iraq are faring the war. Early in the piece, a young boy is interviewed about the death of his parents: he says his mother was kidnapped one day when she went out for a walk. He overheard the call his father received, asking whether the family was Sunni or Shiite, then threatening to "blow her up with the other Shiites." They did just that, strapping a vest of explosives to her body and detonating her life. The boy's father cried so hard at the news, his asthma was triggered--and even after being taken to the hospital, he died, leaving the boy without parents. Later in the piece, Dr. Haidar Al-Maliki, a child psychiatrist at the Central Hospital for Children in Iraq, describes his observations from working with orphans and traumatized children. These children, he says, have grown accustomed to violence, many of whom witnessed their parents or others close to them killed in cruel and gruesome ways. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is common among children like this. Her fears that when this generation grows up, the country will be full of traumatized adults who will turn to violence themselves. He ended the interview with a prophecy: "I've said it before and I'll say it again, we killed one Saddam, but we've created a million Saddams."
Mileage. Trauma. Bad guys. Who is the bad guy? This world view of motherhood does not happily coexist in a culture that exults "survival of the fittest" and "kill or be killed" as its modus operandi. And it's certainly not easily explained to a five-year-old fascinated with guns, bad guys, superheroes, and self-defense. I remind myself that his world view is black and white, that it's supposed to be at his age. But internally, I wrestle, wondering how to raise a child who values both justice and mercy, who knows right from wrong but does not judge, who Loves.
From the backseat, I hear, "But Jesus loves bad guys. If I caught a bad guy, I would treat him respectfully because that helps him learn how to treat people."
My breath catches. I hear Love.
"Yes, Baby, Jesus does love bad guys, and you're right: we teach people how to treat us by the way we treat them." This revision of the golden rule has become a mantra in our household as the kids navigate the territory of sibling-hood and friendship and bump up against selfishness, their own and each other's. We've also talked often about how Jesus loves good guys and bad guys--and thank goodness, because the line between the two is so thin sometimes. Jesus draws no distinction between hate and murder. But even as I marvel at the truth that is rooting itself in Ben's soul, I wonder about the practicality of such a "philosophy," worrying he might neglect to defend himself if faced with someone who wishes him harm. And then I think of Jesus again and wonder where this model of self-defense came from. Certainly not from the cross. I drive, perplexed--yet grateful for a God who is far better than any authority I know on this earth.
I can't remember how the conversation ended. We arrived at the pizza restaurant, and the kids dissolved into tears over who would get the drawing board at the table. Abby had an accident in her chair while I was at the salad bar trying unsuccessfully to quiet her repeated, insistent requests for cheese pizza from across the restaurant. When finally I had both kids at the table, happy, dry, and with food, I managed to eat a few bites before Ben said, "Mommy, I need to go potty." And so, weary, I got up and walked him to the bathroom, trying not to feel frustrated at nature's call.
"Mommy, I love you. I love you more than I love myself," Ben said from the stall.
The bathroom trip was redeemed.
"Oh, Sunshine, that means you love me like Jesus," I said. "And I love you, too."
Redemption is everywhere. In the bathroom of the pizza restaurant after a harried half hour. In Iraq. In the hearts of good guys and bad guys, however the distinction is drawn. It is a hope I cling to in a world ravaged by brokenness and "bad guys." All things are being made new. That's a "philosophy" I can believe in.