Every weekday morning, depending on my wife's substitute teaching schedule, I engage in one of my favorite morning rituals: dropping the boys off at school. My ten year-old son goes to one school, and he's long past the days of his Dad walking him in. So we pull up in the circle; he opens the door and steps out, and I tell him the same thing every single morning: Love you! Learn stuff!
I take my eight year-old son to school next because his is closer to the church. Thankfully, he still enjoys his Dad walking him in. So I park the car and we get out, and he grabs my hand before I reach for his. I know this will change some day, but you can bet I'm enjoying it now. I walk him into the lobby area - we used to go all the way to the classroom, but that was years ago. For this second grader, the lobby is the established point of departure. The handshake transforms into a brief hug and I say what I've always said to him since his very first day of preschool: Love you! Learn stuff!
A slight change-up this morning. As we get to the lobby, I ask if I can take him all the way to his class. Without hesitation he says yes. But he lets go of my hand - an unspoken compromise, I'm guessing, for my special request. That is fine. We walk down the hallway and I playfully grab for his head, and he jukes me in the same way he's accustomed to doing with me on the basketball court at home. When we get to his classroom, I give him a quick hug, I say my thing, and watch him take his seat before turning and heading to the parking lot.
Maybe he knows the reason I asked to walk him to his class was because somewhere in Boston today, there is a father who wasn't able to do the same thing with his eight year-old son. Maybe he doesn't. If I had to guess, I imagine he's aware at some level; because kids are much more perceptive than we give them credit for, and because my wife and I made the decision after Newtown that our boys were old enough to know, that trying to shield them from stuff like what happened in Boston yesterday was futile in an age when our kids are almost as electronically-plugged in as we are. As long as they know we can talk about our fears and concerns as a family, and that we're all in this together.
God, I'm tired of the sick, numbing ritual our society seems to be engaging in more and more these days: the sudden, out-of-nowhere "breaking news," the multi-tasking of watching cable news and scanning Facebook and Twitter feeds, trying to piece together a puzzle whose final picture we already know we won't want to see; the increasing injury and death counts, the names and pictures and faces and personal stories of ended lives, and the inevitable movie/music star benefit concert televised live on a Friday night with the 888 number scrolling at the bottom of the screen. I'm tired of the ritual of having one more location stripped of its innocence, a mental checklist we keep and remember: elementary schools, movie theaters, houses of worship, college campuses, summer youth camps, and now marathon finish lines. I'm tired of the thought that runs circles in my head after the initial shock wears off, when I can momentarily pull my thoughts away from the television screen and the website: Here we go again. It's a ritual that I hate and despise; and sadly, one that is feeling more and more familiar.
Which is why I so desperately need the other rituals. The ritual of going to work, of dinner with my family, of running three miles in the morning, of listening to and performing music, of checking in on a homebound church member, of writing a sermon, of a lunch date with my wife, of gathering with the body of Christ on Sunday mornings, of dropping my sons off at school and saying Love you! Learn stuff! These rituals are the important ones, if for no other reason than they're the very ones those who planted the bombs in Boston want most to disrupt. They want me to be afraid of going to schools and movie theaters and houses of worship and college campuses and summer youth camps and marathon finish lines and the next unknown place where some unspeakable tragedy will happen. They want me to live in fear.
I'm not going to give them that pleasure. It's nerve-racking dropping my boys off at school where they will be somewhere I am not, but I am going to refuse to cave in to the fear they so desperately want me to drown in. I'm just not going to do it. I'm going to refuse for me and my family, for my church and community, for a father in Boston who will never be able to drop his son off at school again. I'm going to keep doing what I do, and I'm going to do it out of love. Which is always greater than fear. Always.
And you better believe I'm going to hold his hand as long as he'll let me.