My daughter and I were cuddled up at night watching TV when I pulled out my phone and checked Facebook. As I scrolled through my feed, I came across the photo I had seen and cried over and thought about a dozen times already that day. The photo of “the boy in the ambulance.”
My little girl looked over my shoulder and gasped, “What is that??” I felt like I had been caught looking at something naughty. “Nothing!” I shot back as I shut off my phone. We sat in silence for a few seconds as she processed and I panicked.
“Was that a boy?” she finally asked. “Was he alive?”
I sat paralyzed in “what’s-the-right-parenting-
In a moment I decided that none of these concerns trumped this opportunity for her to learn about the world, this opportunity to gain understanding and empathy and gratitude. I turned on my phone, found the photo, and explained who this little boy was, why he he looked the way he did. I asked her, “Does that make you sad?” and she countered with her own question, “How sad does it make you?”
Her question answered my fears in a moment. This was the key to revealing this sad, scary world to her, teaching her that she can ask me how I feel, helping her navigate how she should feel and respond herself.
We talked about war and poverty and injustice in the way you do with a seven year old, shoving big ideas into small words, dancing with light steps around heavy ideas. Then I addressed what it all means to her.
I told her that while there’s little we can do, there are some things we can. That she could pray for this boy whenever she thought of this sad picture. That her daddy and I were giving money to help refugees in this area, and she could as well. I told her we have the responsibility to do what we can.
I told her that this little boy was just like her. That even though she’s not afraid or hurting or alone, so many kids in the world are. That nationality and skin color didn’t make how he felt any different than how she would have. I told her how important empathy is.
Then I told her how blessed she is. That it was only the grace of God that she was in this home, in this family, in this country. That she didn’t deserve a better life than this beautiful boy. That her happy days were a gift. I told her she had so very much to be grateful for.
At the end of the night we crawled into bed and said our nighttime prayers. As she listened, I prayed aloud for “the boy on the ambulance.” And I prayed for my little girl, that she would remember this boy, and that in remembering him, she would see her world and her life differently.