It has been awhile, hasn’t it? A lot has changed. You have changed.
You are such a fascinating little person at five and a half years old, Lee. I find you hilarious and gorgeous and completely daunting.
The other day, we went grocery shopping and afterward, because I am not above bribery, we stopped by the dollar store so you could pick out a toy for leaving your poor mother in one piece.
You chose an FBI kit. It had a badge, and a walkie talkie and a gun. We got it home and opened it up and you had a wonderful afternoon playing “spy.” I briefly considered removing the gun, but you tucked it in your belt loop and never pulled it out again so I decided to let it go.
The next day, on a warm, summer morning, while you and I were swimming in a beautiful pool with our friends, a young man shot and ultimately killed 5 people in our little city.
The FBI kit had been discarded in the way of most cheap toys. I had forgotten all about it, to be honest, until you walked up a few days later and pointed that cheap, plastic orange gun in my face as you told me a silly story and laughed. My heart jumped into my throat and I yanked the gun from your hand.
You were offended, and rightly so. I had allowed you to have the toy and then did not explain myself as I snatched it away. You are five. You went swimming that day and you played with your friends and you were happy because I never said we had to go home. We stayed all day. You had no way of knowing it was because the roads were closed and people had died.
So, I clumsily attempted to explain to you why I had such a harsh reaction to seeing my little boy holding a gun that day. And I wasn’t very good at it but I think you understood because you never asked for the gun again. And you always ask again.
What you have asked is why the man killed people….and you aren’t the only one, my love.
One afternoon last week, you asked if you could go and see the memorial and I said yes. And then you said this:
I don’t think that man was always bad. I think he must had read bad books or saw bad things. He must have put bad words into his mind and so then he became bad and instead of doing the good things that he wanted to do, he killed people.
I told you that I thought you were probably right and for a moment I saw the face that I have seen plastered across every news channel for weeks, softened and small and questioning….just like yours. You always have a way of making me think, kiddo.
Liam, I hope that you love people always. I hope you try to understand them always. But here is what I want you to understand: sometimes, you just won’t and that is okay.
You will meet people that make you crazy.
You will meet people that you do not understand.
No matter how open-minded and free-thinking and compassionate you are, you will one day meet a person that you want to hate.
They may be so wrong about something it makes your head spin and all you want to do is cut them down to size, squash them, make them feel small and stupid and weak because that is how they deserve to feel.
Maybe they are hateful and ignorant and they have hurt others with that ignorance and you want to give them a taste of their own medicine.
Do not hate, Liam. Do not hate. Do not put the bad words into your mind. Hate poisons everything it touches. Hate is what turns inquisitive little boys with orange plastic guns into men willing to take other mens’ lives.
Argue. Disagree. Speak out. Stand up for what you believe in. Make your case. Go against the grain. But never, ever hate.
Someone once told me a long time ago that teaching tolerance is not enough; that we have to teach our children to embrace differences. And I think this is a lovely thought. Of course I want to embrace the differences of others and to teach you to do the same. It would be so nice if everyone’s differences were just so easy to accept all the time, if everyone was just a genuinely decent person just trying to get along in the world…but I also see now that sometimes…we just can’t.
Sometimes, I have no desire to embrace the person standing on the other side of an issue close to my heart. Sometimes, I cannot see things from the other point of view.
But I can choose not to hate.
I can tolerate.
So Liam, I want to ask you to embrace those you can and to tolerate those that you cannot embrace. Look them in the eye. Acknowledge their humanity. Recognize their right to exist on this planet. And then….walk away, son.