I listened as well as I could, though I’ll admit she nearly scared me to death at first—Die? Why die? What happened?—but then I managed to get the entire story. She’s 12 now, my daughter, an age I’m quickly beginning to see as Not So Young Anymore. The world is opening up to her, and not just the good stuff, either. She’s learning that not all of life is so wonderful and that the future doesn’t always seem rosy.
It was strange at first that what bothered her so much wasn’t something that would happen, but something that already had.
“Do you know how the dinosaurs died?” she asked me.
“No room in Noah’s ark?”
She looked at me like I was the kid and she was the parent. “It was a meteor!” she said.
“So why are we all gonna die?”
“Because there’s more,” she said. She waved her tiny arms around her head as if she were trying to beat them all away. “It like happens all the time.”
“They hit our planet and kill everything.” She slumped down on the sofa beside me and sighed. “One could be coming now.”
“I hope it waits until this ballgame’s over,” I said, “because I really want to know who wins.”
“I’m being serious, Daddy,” she said. “Aren’t you scared?”
I told her I wasn’t, and that seemed to satisfy her enough. Nothing else was said about things falling from the sky. Mission accomplished, I would usually say. But the fact is that I kinda/sorta lied to her when I said I wasn’t scared.
Because I kinda/sorta was when I was her age.
The truth is that the history of our fair world isn’t fair at all. There have been five mass extinctions in our planet’s history, the last of which occurred just over 70,000 years ago after a volcano almost wiped humanity from history before it had even started.
Just weeks ago, two meteorites passed within just a few thousand miles of Earth.
You get the picture.
I remember when I was about my daughter’s age hearing a preacher on the radio saying he’d received a vision from God (which, heard through his Southern accent, sounded more like GAWT) that the world would end in exactly seven days and thirteen hours. I can’t recall who the man was, but I remember the panic he caused among the few who actually believed him. Me included, of course.
I sat out on the hood of my father’s truck that night and waited for Armageddon. Didn’t come, of course. And even though predictions of The End will stick on me like a burr from time to time, I learned my lesson that day.
I learned that no matter how hard we all may try, none of us can keep the bad away. We can lessen its impact, we can fight it, we can even turn some of it into good, but the fact remains that it’s still there and it’s still coming. The world’s full of trouble, and whether that trouble comes from earthquakes or madmen doesn’t really matter.
If that sounds submissive, I didn’t mean it to be. My daughter fell into the very trap I’ve found myself in so many times—she was worried about something she couldn’t influence. In the age of twenty-four-hour news channels and the internet, that’s something we can all struggle with sometimes.
But I’m older now. I can let solar storms and the ebola go.
It’s the other, personal forms of destruction I want her to worry about, and that’s what I’ve learned to concern myself with more, too. Because it doesn’t take a meteor or a volcano to ruin our lives, especially when we can do that just fine on our own.
We can give in to pain rather than get through it.
We can surrender to temptation rather than fight it.
We can yield our dreams rather than cling to them.
Those are our choices to make, those small decisions that perhaps have no influence on the world outside but make all the difference in the world inside.
That’s what I want my daughter to know. Because planetary destruction is in God’s hands, but self-destruction is in ours.