When I saw my first baby niece, Aviva, I was overwhelmed by a sense of awe, and a kind of warrior's energy. I knew right then and there, that I would do anything to protect her, that I would go to war for her if need be. Perhaps now I understand my parents' love for me a little bit more. If I felt this at the first sight of my niece, how much stronger it must be for a parent, after years and years of shedding their blood, sweat, and tears to raise a child. I also wonder: why was it specifically a commitment to protect and fight which arose first within me? It could have just as well been my commitment to foster joy in her life, to provide opportunities for her to learn, or any other number of hopes, dreams, and values.
Fast forward to yesterday, my niece is now 4 and 1/2, and I'm walking and shvitzing all over the place, as I shlep my bones another 15-20 miles across New York. I was close to running out of water on another very hot day, and stopped by a church to refuel. I was blessed not only with water, but some good conversation, and then made my way onward. Perhaps an hour later a car pulls up with a couple from that very same church, asking me if there's anything I need, if there's any way in which they could help. As the conversation unfolds, they share with me about a granddaughter who is right now in the process of hiking the Appalachian Trail, and the diarrhea-tical consequences of drinking bad water. Then the Grandfather said to me, with both a sigh and a sense of urgent energy: It is kids like her and you , who give me hope. I asked him why. He replied: I'm 95, and at my age I spend a lot of time wondering how your generation will face the hardships that the world will bring you. Seeing you and my granddaughter take on your challenges with humor and zest, that is what gives me strength and hope.
This conversation touched me, deeply. There's not much like being commended by someone who's walked the Earth for 95 years. It also reminded me about how I felt when I first saw my niece, and how my parents relate to me. I think we have two very different visions of how adults relate to children. One - our job is to fight for them and protect them from all adversity. Two - our job is to marvel at (and support) them to on extraordinary challenges with gusto. You might say that the two visions simply reflect a difference in a child's age, an infant does not take on challenges, we have to protect them. That's true, but there's also more.
My parents still worry about me, and wish they could protect me from the world. I also cannot count how many people I have met along the road whose first questions, unlike that is the grandfather above, are about fear and safety. I wonder, what makes for the difference, and what are its consequences?
A word about fear and safety in general: While many of us hold a belief that if we are just meticulous enough, and try hard enough, we will remain safe, the reality is simply not that. Life is filled with chaos and unpredictability. At most we can control our own reactions (and even that is rare, given how hard most of us struggle with our bad habits). On the other hand, the news and our current American zeitgeist often fill us with a sense of fear and dread, or some other: whether that be immigrants or Muslims, Police, or Minorities, or simply people who look and dress different from us down the street. This too is not the complete truth, as stoking fear is one of the oldest and most tried true strategies by any government to manipulate its people.
Returning to different models for rearing children: In addition to the innate biological drive to protect those we love, I cannot help but think that the reason this fiery militancy arose first in my mind, is that my family like many, has experienced generation after generation of persecution. One response to that is growing up with a sense that the world is a dangerous place, always in the background, no matter what's happening in our lives from day-to-day, and trying to shield those we love from it, no matter the cost, and no matter their age. Another response is to foster and celebrate their ability to take on new extraordinarily challenging tasks, trusting that they will overcome them, succeed, and therefore with each challenge be better prepared for tomorrow. One response is from fear, the other one holds more unreasonable courage (feeling fear, while acting anyway). A Climate Changed world calls upon more and more unreasonable courage!