(Originally published as a column in the AM News on Friday, July 11, 2014)
I remember the days after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. My youngest was six at the time and I remember staring at his round fingers grabbing crayons, or an apple, or pointing to something I had to see.
I remember his small hand sinking into mine, nestled like a baby bird that had enough for the day and was looking for the embrace of its shelter. During the first couple of weeks my thoughts were stubbornly returning to the shooting.
Most of the victims were children and they were six. Same small hands with round eager fingers, ready to grab and point. Same curiosity and joy to live.
Another thought that crossed my mind countless times was ‘What if?…’ Every time I’d go there it was like approaching a sudden drop into nowhere. I could not fathom that and I could not construct that kind of reality. My heart went out, still does, to those who ever have to.
But here’s a question: for how long can we entertain fear of that kind before it takes over our lives in an unhealthy way? I’m ready to say not for long.
When our house was broken into I met a different kind of fear. I was afraid of it happening again, we all were for a while after it happened, but we refused to give in. We adults set the tone on that one, and the boys followed, though my feeling is that it went both way for all of us.
We lock our doors nowadays the way we always have and we ask our neighbours to look after our place when we’re away. Could it happen again? Most certainly. Yet living in fear forever is way worse because it robs us of our joy to live and it keeps the shadows that left the house a long time ago present, giving them more substance than they should ever have.
Fear begets fear. There is too much around us as it is, and we are subjecting our children to it too. From bacteria to strangers, we remind them to be afraid of the world they live in. Add to that the recent plans to enhance security around schools and one may wonder about their ability to keep that intrinsic joie de vivre alive with so much to fear.
Prevention is important, we all agree. And so is the old ‘Better safe than sorry.’ But are we truly looking at prevention the right way?
This equation is not an easy one to solve and it has more terms than one. Mental health and poverty to start with.
Are we making sure that the early signs of mental health imbalances are being addressed properly and the stigma associated with such issues is slowly becoming a thing of the past?
Are we teaching children, teenagers and adults too about mental issues and their serious implications, while at the same time making sure that early intervention, adequate services including counselling and treatment are available to those in need, regardless of their social status?
Fear is part of life. Our ancestors used to stay alive and nowadays, fear is what makes us capable of outstanding things when outstanding is needed of us. A healthy sense of fear keeps children safe, there is no debate about that.
But fear and life skills have to be taught at the same time; children have to know that there is more to addressing fear than barricading ourselves behind locked doors and having the security cameras on stand-by, lest a bird sits on one…
Children experience fear, they need protection and reassurance. They are afraid of losing their parents, of not being liked and accepted by their peers and of trees swaying too wildly during a big storm.
But they also live in the moment. Yesterday’s intense fear is replaced by the excitement of new things they discover today and the joy of playing.
Security measures are a good thing, they are, but outfitting schools with too much might do the opposite for our children.
It will keep reminding them of a putative evil that no matter how remote the risks of, becomes more of a reality with every day they see the security features in place, pinning their imagination to an awful scenario, the kind they are instinctually programmed to forget about…
How is that not to fear, given the insidious long term effects of living under the dark, unforgiving cloud of ‘What if?…’