A few blocks from my house is a ridge overlooking a golf course, green and wide-open with the most gorgeous firs and hemlocks pushing against the sky, so tall they seem impossible, and far out at the place where the sky and mountains become the horizon is Mt. Hood towering above everything. Early mornings when the light is new and the sky looks bruised, I walk my dog along the ridge. If you stand just right, east-facing with your back to the houses and all the open in front of you and that light and the clouds and the mountain silhouetted, you get the illusion you are standing in a world that’s never been touched. Seems impossible a place like this could ever make pain.
But you know, of course you know, this world’s been marked and carved all over. Pain is everywhere. The mountain is a volcano.
Someday it will blow.
Thirteen years ago on Sept. 11, 2001, I was a few months pregnant with my first child. I didn’t live near the ridgeline with the view yet and I wasn’t up walking my dog, but I was up early enough to watch the sky change from dark to light, early enough to see the second plane hit the second tower live on my TV screen.
Nobody needs me to describe the scene. It’s burned all the way through us. I’m smoke and ash and a collective loss that can’t be filled.
What I thought that morning and for many, many mornings after was the same thing most every pregnant American woman must have thought. What kind of world am I bringing a baby into? Or worse, why am I bringing a baby into this effing mess of a world?
Terrible things, horrendous things, happen all the time, every day. They have always happened. They will always happen. They will never make sense.
Some days — when planes crash into buildings or children open fire on their classmates or a pro football player punches his fiancée in the face in an elevator and drags her unconscious body across the floor — the only place we can look is straight into the ugly.
We can’t look away. We can’t unsee it.
When I write in this blog I usually offer tips on whatever topic I’m writing about.
I don’t have five ways for you to protect your child from domestic violence or terrorist attacks or natural disasters. Even if I did, they wouldn’t matter.
Regardless of how many strategies I offer to protect you and your child from this or that potential tragedy, something, somewhere, sometime is going to hurt her or him in ways you would stab your own eyeballs out prevent if that were a trade you could make.
This is the reality of being a parent.
This is the reality of being alive.
The baby I was carrying on Sept. 11, 2001, will be 13 in March. It’s not war or the threat of terrorists or a homicidal classmate I worry about. It’s the quieter things that steal my sleep at night.
Not what ifs; what is.
At 12 she is already faced with making a decision that I would not wish on anyone. She cannot vote. She cannot drive. She cannot drink. She is not old enough to consent to sex because we as adults understand that her mind is not yet developed enough to handle any of these things. And yet, she alone has been charged with choosing or not choosing to do a terrifying thing that will either way impact her forever.
I won’t give details because she has asked me not to share.
I will only say this: all the compelling reasons for her to choose to do this thing can’t assuage her fear of doing it. They cannot save her from this painful place.
And this: What the (@$:!
And also, this: If I’d known 14 years ago, before I got pregnant, what I know right now, it would not change my choice to bring her into the world.
The truth is, I knew then just like we all know: there is no protection from life for any of us.
There is only one alternative.
I choose to walk at sunrise and to live on a fault line in the shadow of a volcano that someday is going to blow.
That’s what life is.
I choose to hope for my children that all the pain and ugly of our world is counterbalanced by enough love and beauty and goodness to carry them.
That’s what parenting is.
I choose to hope that my hope is enough.
Photo credit: iStock.com
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