“What would you do if you saw a gun?” the doctor asks my daughter, who turned four two weeks ago. I watch as a quizzical look crosses my daughter’s face. She is not sure what is happening. Is the doctor being funny? Telling a joke?
I am fairly certain my daughter does not understand the moment because she does not know what the word “gun” means. I cannot be completely certain. There are words she has discovered before I realized. “Princess,” for example. But I’m pretty sure “gun” is not on that list.
“Do you know what a gun is, sweetie?” I ask. She shakes her head, the quizzical look expanding.
And so the doctor turns her attention to me, explaining that this is a good age to start teaching my daughter about guns. My daughter, with the soft skin echoing of infancy and the wisps of baby hair, needs to learn about guns so that if she should happen to see one, she will know how to respond safely.
The doctor is right, of course. And yet everything about me – aside from that part of my rational mind that recognizes that yes, this is sound advice – revolts. Guns and my daughter, these two entities should not combine.
She has just learned that animals eat one another. She is in turns fascinated and terrified by that discovery. How will her father and I explain that long, long ago, people made weapons with which they could end the lives of other animals? Yes, including other humans. Importantly, including other humans. That in recent years, those weapons have become so sophisticated that the fastest can fire 1 million rounds per minute?
And then, of course, the mind wanders, as the mind does, and I realize that someday, when she is still too young for such news, she will learn that children occupied with nothing more than the desire to learn and discover and make new friends have had their lives ended by guns. No, not just once. Many times.
I don’t want these facts in her life. I want to build a fortress around her awareness and let in only the beautiful, enchanting parts of the world. Look at how the ferns unfurl every spring. Feel the softness of that moss. Lie on your back with me and look at the moon in its bright fullness as we listen to the loons haunt the night with their cries. Stay here, your soft hand in mine.
But that is not this world and that is not her life, or mine. Or any of ours. We take in all of it. Hopefully the beauty keeps us coming back for more, day in and day out. Hopefully the enchantment points us like a compass, aligning our work, our words, our very being. But we need to let it all in. She needs to know.
Would that I could give her the world just as I want it to be. But she is here, now, for all of it.