Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Ultimate Question

I always wondered how I would deal with the big questions my children threw my way. When Kai was about two, he asked why spiders have eight legs and we have two. It was this moment when I realized how easy it is to offer all variations of living as the work of god, rather than say evolution or species variety, or just plain old science.

A few weeks ago, however, when visiting our LA family, all of their fish came down with Ick, killing each one over the course of the weekend. When we returned home, Kai, rightly curious, asked about death. He wanted to know the obvious that we all want to know--what does it mean to die? I considered all the possible ways to address this issue and settled on following the advice of his preschool teacher--just answer the question, nothing more or less. I answered that our bodies stop working.

"Mommy," he asked, "when are you going to die?"

I tried to quell his fears, while also choking back tears, and said that we would all live a very long life and die when our bodies got really old. He then looked up at me with those earnest hazel eyes and said, "Are me and you and daddy all going to die together?"

I dodged the bullet for another week, before he started the line of questioning again. This time asking specifically what it means to die, to be alive, and then he busted out with "Where do we go when we die?"

I considered the magic of that question--one that creates wars, relationships, community, and fear. I imagined the feeling of certainty that surrounded me when I held my grandmother on her deathbed and felt her body turn cold that there was more than this. Not an intellectual feeling, but a purely emotional connection to more than we are. And so I drew on that feeling and explained that some people believe we go to heaven to be with all of our family and friends and others believe that we go to the source and our bodies feed the earth making it grow. I added, "Let's say that me and daddy live a long life and then we die--"

"No, mommy," he interrupted, "we are all going to die together."

"Ok," I amended, "let's say me and you and daddy all die together, when we go to heaven, we'll be with grandma and poppop, and baba and grandpa Fema."

He hugged me tightly and I wanted to cry, considering all the bad in the world that I am trying to shield him from. And how lucky he was to have lived on this earth for 3.5 years without the knowledge that he would one day perish. Eddie and I still try to shield him from as much worldly yuckiness as we can--he knows nothing of the Japanese earthquake, the cloud of radiation headed our direction, the tsunami; he knows nothing of war and bad guys (save the occasional reference to pirates from his school buddies), but I know that soon, too soon, he will. And all I can do as he gathers this information is to hold him close and remind him that we are all in this together.