Lady: That's disgusting.
Lady: (to little girl) There is no way I'm letting you go in there!
Girl: Why not?
Lady: There is disease in there. It's disgusting. Disease and dirty diapers! Do you know what happens to people who go in there? They get sick.
Husband: (quietly) Really?
Lady: (to little girl) There's NO WAY I'm letting you go in there!
This was the conversation that occurred right next to us as we approached the splash-pad-esque-water-area at the Minnesota Zoo. I had looked it up on the internet earlier that morning and saw that there was a water area with fountains and squirting water where the kids could play. On a hot day, it seemed like the best place to be AND it's in the middle of the zoo. Does it get any better than that? He was so excited about the possibility, Sean wanted to wear his swim trunks and swim shirt TO the zoo. I thought this was a great plan.
Yet somehow we got stuck next to this family of Haters, and they were so close to us, it was difficult to not feel reprimanded by the mother myself for even looking in the direction of the water. After her fearful reaction to seeing the water and recognizing the child-like wonder her daughter was exhibiting thinking about going in, I spoke directly to Sean.
me: Seancito, do you want to go in the water now or later?
Sean: Um, I think maybe later.
I don't think he heard the fear-ridden woman talk about the water. I think he was just curious about finding the animals first and coming back to the water later. However, I did stop and think for a moment about the impact that woman's words could have had on Sean. He's a cautious kid. All it takes is someone adamantly saying that water will make you sick, and he might take a break from the water for a week! Thankfully her words didn't stop him from playing in the water area after lunch, and he had a great time. What I wanted to tell that lady was that my dear Audrey would refrain from getting in the water, meaning I was single-handedly saving 25-30 children from getting hand, foot, and mouth virus that day. Somehow I don't think she would have appreciated my heroism.
Fear is something that takes hold of me all too easily. Though I wrote the lady off as a crazy, fear-ridden (and clearly unhappy) individual who has no fun, I did have one moment where I allowed her fear to take root inside of me. I paused and thought: maybe I shouldn't let Sean run through that water. Maybe there are diseases here! I mean we are at the zoo!@!?&! Perhaps there are germs everywhere, just waiting to take my children down!
Oh wait... Audrey already has a terrible virus. That's right!
We live in a culture that spews fear. Take the recent shootings in Colorado - an awful, sickening tragedy. It's something that hasn't left me alone since I first heard about it. It doesn't help anything, but I play it out in my mind: what if I had been in that theatre, what if I had heard those gunshots, what if one of my kids will be in a theatre like that someday? These thoughts are paralyzing. In fact, I find them to be spiritually deadening. There is absolutely nothing - nothing - I can do about someone else's choice to harm people. I have no control over my children's lives in that respect, and it terrifies me. But if I give in to that fear - if I allow those hypothetical thoughts to take hold - I will not be able to be a good mother. Frankly, I would begin to see everything in this world as a possible danger to my kids. I must admit, I've thought twice about taking the kids to a movie anytime soon. Makes sense, right? Why would I want to put them in danger? And yet... when I really evaluate that idea... that doesn't make any sense at all.
A week after September 11th, I got on a plane to Ireland for my Junior year study abroad experience. A couple days before I left, they re-opened the airports, solidifying the fact that I would indeed get on a plane. I remember distinctly having a conversation with my mom about my own fear, sitting on the stairs of my childhood home. (Forgive me, Mom, this conversation happened over 10 years ago. The content is all there, but I'm sure I've changed some words. And perhaps I'll embellish a little for dramatic flair. At least I'm honest about it.)
me: Maybe I shouldn't go. Maybe I should go back to Dallas and not go to Ireland.
Mom: Oh no, I don't think that's the best idea. You have to keep living your life. (she begins getting teary-eyed) We have no control over what people do, and there is evil in this world. But you must - we all must - keep living our lives. We can not let fear dictate our choices.
I was touched by this statement. I know it was the reason I got on that plane a couple days later. I was scared out of my mind, and when I said goodbye at the airport, I had a rock in my throat wondering if I would see my parents again. Which is what I voiced to her in response to her positive, inspirational message.
me: What if something happens here? What if something happens to you guys?
I expected mom to come back at me with more positive, inspirational thoughts. I wanted her to bolster me in this time of second-guessing my adventure. I wanted her to tell me that good would triumph over evil. That there was no way we would get attacked again.
Mom: Well, Anna Marie, we have no control over other people's choices. But as I said, we must keep living our lives. And my only hope is that if we are attacked with biological warfare that I can stay healthy and strong enough to help Mary Kate.
WAIT A MINUTE! Wasn't this an after-school special? Wasn't the music playing and the tears were streaming and you were going to tell me that everything was going to be okay?? How did this devolve into biological warfare?? How can you say this to me right before I'm getting on a plane to fly across the ocean?? Have you any idea how good I am at creating my own worst scenarios?? I don't need any help in that department!
We both cried. I firmly believe my mom was still inspired by the obvious answer: good would prevail over evil. It always does. It's part of her faith system and she lives it out every day of her life. HOWEVER, I was crying because I allowed my mom's comment to take root inside me. I will admit that flying on that airplane days after September 11th was not easy. But I'm glad I took my mom's advice and I kept living my life.
My hope is that I can model that same thing for my kids. Thankfully they aren't old enough to know what happened in Colorado. I'm grateful we don't have to have that conversation right now. Also working in my favor is that Seancito was so excited to be at the zoo the other day that he didn't seem to hear the crazy lady talking about the diseased water. Is this what they mean when they say that in order to truly understand God, we must become like children? We must be oblivious and ignore the news and revel in the moment in front of us? Strangely, I think yes! Maybe not be truly oblivious, but definitely ignore the news. When I step foot into a movie theatre again (and I hope it's sooner rather than later) I will have to be a little oblivious to what I know has happened in Colorado. When I send my kids off to school, I will have to let go of the fact that crazy people have made awful choices and hurt children while at school. When I get on planes, even still to this day, I make peace with myself that something terrible could happen. Thankfully, we have more instances of movies running normally, school days running smoothly, and airplanes taking off and landing with no hiccups. It's just that those don't get the publicity.
And when I go to the splash area at the zoo, I will have to surrender my control to the gods and understand that Sean just might come down with an awful disease or virus. Something that might give him a fever and then blistery-lesions all over his hands, feet, and mouth.
Oh wait... he was already exposed to that at home. If only that fearful lady knew how close she was to disease.