Friday, May 21, 2010
Next, Maybe Old Yeller?
Last night I finished our current read-aloud - Rascal. Things were going so very, very well up until the last page, when my eight year old sat bolt upright in her bunk. "Wait a second. WHAT IS HE DOING."
The six year old, much like Rascal himself, remained in blissful ignorance until the very last paragraphs. As Sterling paddled quickly away "from the place where they had parted" her eyes grew large and then.....the sobbing began.
Twenty minutes later, as I administered another dose of Rescue Remedy to my distraught baby, I reflected on the need for sadness in childhood. In a happy-ending culture, where Disney's Little Mermaid does not dissolve into sea foam, where the main characters NEVER get killed off, and where children are not expected to attend funerals, the routines of illness, separation, loss and death are unknown to a lot of people.
I've been thinking about this a lot, naturally, and have had some interesting email exchanges with commenters on recent posts. I was surprised by the idea, expressed by several people, that friends of those with cancer often desert them - they don't know how to act around an ill person, they don't know how to be with a dying person.
So they back away.
I wonder whether, in the peculiar type of sheltering that people do with their children - wherein they are routinely exposed to anonymous media violence, but not the human reality of suffering - our society has created a generation of emotionally-paralysed adults who, from lack of practice, don't know how to empathise.
Last night, as I was comforting my little girl, her sister was thinking aloud about Rascal. "Someday I'd like to see the movie," she said. After a minute she added, "Though I bet they changed the ending...they usually take those sad parts out."
But I don't want the sad parts out.
The life I live is incredibly rich. There are shining moments of near-perfect happiness.
There are huge gorgeous feasts with my family.
There are hot and lazy summer days, there are steaming pots of tea in the fall.
There is uproarious laughter.
The feasts are so much better when you're hungry. The lazy days wouldn't be nearly so lovely if my muscles weren't tired from days of work. The laughter is never better than when my face is still wet with tears.
I won't cheat my kids of this: the intensity of relief and joy when it has been tempered by tension and sorrow. Their pets will never 'go away'. Loss will come to them, and sadness, and they need to learn how to cry - cry hard - and grieve and mourn, and dwell in darkness.
And tomorrow, when the sun rises, everything will seem new.