Tonight, I'm making their lunches: Sandwich. Juice box. Little carrots. A dessert to eat, or to trade, or just to make the other kids jealous. Also, a cartoon drawing with a note that says, "I love you, and the world can be a place of wonder and magic." It's my way of enclosing in their lunch a little extra love and beauty. I won't enclose any fear. I'll keep that for myself.
Tomorrow morning I'll wake them, feed them, remind them to brush their teeth, to wear a warm coat. I'll send them out the door and onto the bus. I'll send them away.
Will they come back?
I know the odds are good, and that millions of kids go out each day and come home without incident. But don't cloud the issue with data. It could happen, and if that doesn't make your gut tighten up as the bus doors close behind them, then you're blocking out some important instincts.
There are certain defining jobs of parenting, and protecting is chief among them. Loving, educating, nursing, inspiring ... These are all essential, but protecting our children emerges as involuntarily as breath and heartbeat. It's not chosen; it vibrates like molecules within us. But along with this protective instinct come two undeniable realities: One is that we must let them venture beyond our protection in order to have a healthy life and to learn to protect themselves. The other is that often, we are simply unable to protect them.
We see the glimpses of it when we let them ride their bikes beyond our reach. One foolish turn and they return with skinned knees. In the blink of an eye they're taking the car key, and one foolish turn has severe consequences. With even these most common milestones, our protection is imperfect; their freedom sometimes deadly. When the news explodes, our protective instinct demands that we keep them home, in our house, in our room, in our arms, because if this could happen there, it could happen anywhere, and I'm not going to send my child out into it.
Hope is chosen. As adults we've grown accustomed to choosing hope for ourselves. We eat the food we hope will keep us healthy. We work the jobs we hope will make a difference. We elect the candidate we hope will lead us well. We seek the light in the darkness, and we choose to believe that the darkness shall not overcome it. Sending our children out into the world is an act of chosen hope: Hope that they will grow, and live, and thrive, and make the world better.
But the pain that comes with each school shooting is a painful reminder: Hope is not just a choice, it's a gamble. When we send our children beyond our arms' reach, we know that we are gambling with their lives. Maybe you believe that the odds are infinitesimally small. Maybe you fear that they are a coin toss at best. But it's a gamble. We know that this has happened before -- how many this year? -- and we know this will happen again. It might be at my school. It might be at yours. But someone, someday soon, will send their children to school, and they won't come home, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that your school is any safer than Umpqua, or Sandy Hook, or Columbine. To believe otherwise isn't hope, it's delusion.
But still, I'll choose to hope and to send them off. I'll fill their lunch bags with all the magic I can. I'll fill their hearts with all the love I can. I'll fill their souls with all the grace I can. I'll send them out into this murderous world and teach them to love it. I'll send them off singing, though they may come home groaning. I'll inhale this fear, but I'll exhale that spirit of hope into their tiny, vulnerable bodies. The worries will keep me up all night long. But I'll choose to turn it into hope. I'll pack it up, and send them off with it in the morning.
The Rev. Matt Schultz is pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Anchorage.
The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.