Problems change from having to eat your vegetables to having to write 10+ page reports. School goes from costing $5 a week for pizza days to costing thousands of dollars in tuition. Your income goes from 25¢/tooth to $11.00/hour, and one of them gets you a heck of a lot further than the other (hint: it isn’t minimum wage). No longer do you need worry about which of your stuffed animals will be attending the tea party, no–you now have to worry about fixing your car, paying off your mortgage, and whether or not you’ll be able to afford that family vacation within the next three years.
As if all that wasn’t bad enough, problems unfortunately aren’t the only things that get worse when you grow up. People do too. Kids more often face a sand-kicking playground bully than an emotionally-damaging backstabbing witch. Adults more often face people who will lie to them and find ways to cheat them than meanies who steal toys at recess and call them dumb.
When you grow up in a world like this, it is quite possible to learn all sorts of nasty things, like how to take advantage of the weak, how to create the greatest verbal wounds, how to exploit a low self-esteem. Lies spread, bullying worsens, attacks become subtler but so much more profound. The world can be cruel. It can chew you up, spit you out, and then continue to stomp on you while you lie prone and vulnerable.
I’m sure we can all to some degree attest to that.
So how do we do it? How do we survive growing up, and getting beat to a pulp, and encountering people who know all about being cruel? How can a child, a fragile little body so full of innocence, and hope, and trust, and faith, and the biggest, brightest, most limitless dreams that have ever been dreamt, survive this rough world?
Maybe because we give them heroes. People who are strong enough to endure the beatings. People who are valiant enough to remain gentle in the face of torment. People who are selfless enough to make sacrifices for the weak.
We tell our children stories of these heroes so that they know that when they’re in their darkest hours, when everything is crashing around them, that there are people out there who will save them. People who will never stop caring, never stop fighting, never stop loving them.
People who will always do good when everything is so terribly bad.
We show them these heroes, give them this hope, and make them feel safe. And maybe, if we’ve done a truly good thing, we’ve shown them that it’s within everyone to be a hero. That average people are becoming heroes every day, and that strength isn’t something we’re blessed with, it’s something we choose.
Maybe we teach them the secrets of being brave, of believing in yourself, of continuing to fight despite the wounds already stacked upon you. Maybe we teach them what courage is, and valour, and show them all the ways that we can find power in this powerless world.
Maybe we’ve given them the path to heroism so that if they’re scared enough, or weak enough, or mournful enough, or hateful enough, they’ll find that path and follow it.
Maybe we’ve made our children less fragile than they seem.
In the thickest darkness, we have to believe that somewhere there is light. In the deepest water, we have to believe that somewhere there is air. In the nastiest parts of life, we have to believe that somewhere there is kindness. And so amongst the wickedest of villains, we have to believe that somewhere there are heroes.
And that somehow, our children will come to know them.
If I am so lucky in my lifetime and with my words to inspire even one child to believe that there are heroes, that we are heroes, then I feel I’ve made the best possible use of my years.
The world is cruel, yes, and people are what make it so, but that’s why we have heroes.
Who’s your favourite childhood hero?
May your children know or your actions prove that heroes truly exist and are not far from our reach.