Friday, February 11, 2011

"How did the war start?" she asked

We were listening to their favorite Pandora station two nights ago. Based on "A Whole New World" from Aladdin, it plays hours of Disney movie tunes, leading to spontaneous rounds of "Name That Movie." (You should try it sometime.)

Tonight it played "Sixteen Going on Seventeen" from The Sound of Music. (Yes, that was a Disney flick.) Over mac and cheese, edamame, weinies and greens, Ashlyn steered the conversation to the way the Von Trapp family had to run so they didn't have to fight in the army. We talked about how it wasn't just any army, but the Nazi army, the surface of whose evil I only scratched the surface with my description. Still, I think their main beef with Hitler's boys was that the Von Trapp kids would not get to see their Daddy while he was away fighting.

"That's like Ricky's dad," said Ashlyn. And next thing we know, we're talking about a friend whose Daddy is overseas in the U.S. Army.

Cognitive dissonance hung in the room: Nazis bad. Fighting bad. Children missing soldier daddies bad. At time same time, our soldiers good, our friend's daddy good. Fighting good?

And then, the question from Brielle: "Daddy, how did the war start?"

Deep inhalation, a proud thrill at such a big-girl question, and a sigh out. Resignation. This Daddy's answer would be so, so incomplete.

"Wow, that is a long story, girlies." My knowledge of Afghanistan's long history is limited to what I've picked up reading Khaled Hosseini's books, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. (Great, sad and beautiful both.) Cursory though that is, it was still too much information.

So, I told them the 9-11 story. World Trade Center. Pentagon. United 93. Al-Qaeda. Their friends, the Taliban.

The horror of it contorted Brielle's face as she listened, especially when she learned that the hijackers did their work as an act of obedience to their idea of God, with a belief that it would take them straight to heaven.

Somewhere in the narrative between September 11 and Afghanistan, Ashlyn realized I was telling too small a story.

"No, Daddy, how did ALL the wars start?" she interrupted.

I told her that the answer was more story than we had time to tell before bedtime.

Which sounded a little better than, "I don't know."

I could have related a story as primal as Lucifer's bid for godhood, or as recent as my last angry outburst at them. Or any story of creatures lusting for dominance that their Creator never gave them. But I didn't.

Whether from ignorance or prudence or cowardice or a desire to hallow a worthy question with a season of silence before daring to answer, I left my inquiring daughters' minds inquiring.

Maybe I missed a teachable moment.

But what would you have told them?

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