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Words

Ever since I found out I was pregnant, I've been keeping a journal to my son, Geo. I started it as a way to feel connected to this tiny being I could not yet feel inside of me, and now I write to express the excitement and anxieties I have over his birth, just a month away. I write to him the way I plan to respond to his questions when he is a toddler--in an honest yet P.G. manner. I sign every page with "Love, Your Mama." I detail his ultrasound measurements, the joy that the blooming forsythias brought me today, but I'm also upfront about the sad, outside-world things that have happened in the past nine months of his gestation, like a friend's miscarriage. I try to find simple ways to describe such tragedies to him, though this often proves difficult. How to capture overwhelming loss yet still protect my son's innocence? Of the miscarriage, I wrote, "Sometimes, when you plant a garden, some of the seeds grow into big, juicy tomatoes, some seeds yield small peppers that shrivel before they ripen, and some seeds never sprout above the ground. The earth is too dry, the sun too strong, we'll never know."

But when I sat down to write to Geo yesterday and tried to explain Monday's horrific events, I was at a complete loss. How does a mother explain such purposeful evil to a child when she does not understand it herself? Though I haven't thought about it much until now, this week I keep asking myself, "What kind of world am I bringing my son into?" I discussed this with my husband, and we reflected back to our own childhoods, how we didn't have to worry about such things.

Every fourth of July, my family and I went to Grant Park in Chicago for the fireworks display. The crowd totaled well into the thousands. Family after family sat on tiny squares of checkered-fabric and pointed at the sky in awe. From the fireworks' perspective, I'm sure we looked like an endless quilt of people. It would have been the ideal setting for a terrorist attack, but none ever came and we never worried. We left the house headed towards the city each year concerned about beverages and blankets, not bombs.

But, in the future, when my husband and I go on crowd-filled outings with Geo, will we think of all that could go wrong? Worse, will our fears convince us to stay home instead?

Over the last two days, answers to these questions have come to me through words--news articles of heroic helpers rushing toward the blasts instead of away, Facebook posts of strength and unity, blog entries about being just feet from the explosions, quotes about good outweighing evil. Yes, words--the things I love so much in this world--words, have given me answers and hope.

I teach English as a second language at Framingham State University and today we had a moment of silence for all those affected by Monday's events. Afterwards, students were given index cards on which to write messages of hope, in English or in their native languages. Let me tell you the beauty of these message boards--condolences in Portuguese and French, in Chinese characters I don't even recognize. No translation was needed. The words still rang of resilience, of comfort.

As another way of extending support, our director sent out an email ending with a quote from Salman Rushdie and his response to terrorism. It reads:

"We must agree on what matters: kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, disagreement, cutting-edge fashion, literature, generosity, water, a more equitable distribution of the world's resources, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love. These will be our weapons. Not by making war but by the unafraid way we choose to live shall we defeat them."

And so, I will add these words to Geo's journal. When he is five or ten or fifteen, when his overanxious mother is (hopefully) the only evil in his life, he will read his journal, Rushdie's words and mine, and understand maybe not the situation, but how we chose to react to it. By having children and raising them to be good, by getting outside and appreciating the forsythia, by joining the crowds and watching the fireworks. By being unafraid.

About the Author See other articles by Nadine Kenney Johnstone
by Nadine Kenney Johnstone
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Categories:

Inspiration

Topics:

Nonfiction

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