It is time for a little tough love, time to pull down some of the illusions and look at things with a direct and steady gaze. It is a tough world out there folks, a fallen world filled with fallen people. Wishful desire will not change this, and neither will blind denial.
I was speaking with my children, Cathy fourteen and Scott eleven, about the events of hurricane Katrina and the abject chaos in New Orleans. I wanted to put things in perspective and expand their eyes a bit about the human condition. Knowing the difference between illusion and reality is a key to survival.
The illusion is that we are safe and protected. The walls of the house, money in the bank and food in the cupboards feed those perceptions. But all of that can be wiped away in a moment. My wife and I have accumulated a wealth of material objects in the last seventeen years from hard work and good stewardship; but nothing we have can withstand the forces of nature.
Where we live, hurricanes are not a worry; but there are the occasional earthquake, volcano eruption and flood. We are not isolated from individual tragedies like fire or theft which seem to strike everyday to people near and far. This is a tough, hard world and it does not take much effort to see that. A short drive to the darker portions of the community can bear this out.
My job as a parent is to protect my children from the harsh realities of life, to keep them above the level of base survival, where metal meets the bone. I expect government to perform their roles, providing law enforcement and the other civil services which maintain order and promote the general welfare. While I expect those services to exist I accept the lion’s share of responsibility for their welfare is mine.
I also know there is only so much I or anyone else can do, against forces that are directed and focused towards destruction. There are locks on the door to keep honest people out, not determined thieves. We live in a stable neighborhood but the road to more dangerous places can be driven both ways. The reality is that you are never completely immune from danger, and you will go insane by excessive worry about it. That is why we build illusions around us.
Reality exists in those things which can not be taken from you. It is in your character and will. It lives in the relationships with others and the love for friends and family. Storms can take away my house, but my home is not so easily destroyed. Thieves can steal our money, but not the willingness to earn more. Fire can burn away the treasures of a lifetime, but not the work ethic which gained them. A government can deny my ability to worship, but my devotion to God remains. Reality is very different than illusion.
The danger of living in a suddenly devastated area, is being forced to see the world as it is; that everything hinges on the principle of ‘eat or be eaten.’ When this happens a comparison takes place between what the world has done and your ability to respond. The reflection in the mirror may be lacking. People are not prepared for the removal of their illusions. When panic leads to the breakdown of society, the people willing to share or help others are often the first to be slaughtered.
As Christians we have faith that God exists and will provide for our needs. I know this to be true; but I also know God does not want his children to be fools. When tragedy strikes, and society crumbles, the rules change; and not by any actions of your own. Failing to recognize this reality will get you injured, raped or murdered. It is important to understand these things. It is better to eat than to be eaten.
My son, as he says it, ‘was a little shaky’, after our talk. He is only eleven and I could have kept this bit of reality from him. But when I saw the story of Deamonte Love I could not hold back. Deamonte, a six year old boy in New Orleans led a group of seven children, one only five months old, to safety. When I read his story I knew someone prepared that kid ahead of time. I could do no less with my own kids.