“The flowers and the candles are for protection.”

18 Nov

flowers-candlesI myself was protected last weekend by being out of touch with television and the social media at the NAGC convention in Phoenix.  I was lucky enough to see not a single image from Paris until I got home on Sunday night, by which time memorials had sprung up at every site of the violence.

The title of this post will be readily recognized as a quotation from a video interview that went viral—with more than 14 million views on social media. In case you haven’t seen it, a father and his very young son were being interviewed in Paris at one of the sites where those lost in a bombing on Friday were being memorialized with banks of flowers and hundreds of candles.  The boy was very much afraid of the “mean people with guns.”

“We have flowers,” his father told him. The boy began to protest about the effects of mere flowers, but the father assured him that they were protection. Flowers and candles. The boy looked for a time at the banks of flowers and candles, and gradually his face relaxed. “For protection,” he repeated. When the interviewer asked if that idea made him feel better, he nodded. “I feel better,” he said.

In a powerful way, that father was right. The purpose of the terrorists is to spread fear, and at first, for that child, as for so many others, they had succeeded in their mission. The little boy wanted to move to a new home, a place safe from mean people with guns. “Paris is our home,” his father told him, and said that there are mean people everywhere. But in telling him that the flowers were protection, he showed his son the absolute truth that there are many people—vastly more than the paltry number of terrorists on this planet—who care.

Fred Rogers (of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood) said that his mother told him when he was a child and upset (as so many sensitive kids are) about news from some disaster, that instead of paying attention to the disaster, he should “watch the people who come to help—there are always people who come to help.”

A great many of the children we work with and care about are deeply empathic, feeling the pain of others, and easily overwhelmed by news of man’s inhumanity to man, of images of what “mean people” do in the world. How do we help them (and ourselves) deal with the chaos we see around us? Far more dangerous to a child than the possibility of a terrorist attack is an ingrained fear of other humans and a world of random violence. How do we protect them from the terror that is being purposely unleashed in our world today by people who themselves are terrorized by what they perceive to be massive world powers ranged against them?

By seeing, really seeing, under, over, past and around the images of death and destruction that the media insist on pouring into the atmosphere of this interconnected world.  By focusing on the vast majority—on the helpers, on those who bring candles and flowers.  We can think of every candle as “the light of truth” and every flower as a symbol not just of love and caring, but of the beauty of life itself.

When fear is being ratcheted up around the world not just by the terrorists and their guns and bombs, but by the news media that continually push those images on us, warning us that this sort of horror could happen anywhere at any time we can focus differently, and use our very good minds to support us. The numbers are on our side!

There’s an Allstate ad that says, “Man-eating sharks live in every ocean, but we still swim. Lightning strikes somewhere in the world, but we still play in the rain. So many things can happen. However, bad things in life can’t stop us from making our lives good. People live for good…”

While we tend to think of insurance companies intentionally frightening us to get us to buy their product, consider for a moment the principle on which that industry was created in the first place—that there is more “daily life” than catastrophe.

At this time in the history of the world our countries still respond to guns with guns, to bombs with bombs, to killing with killing.  But that father, pointing his son’s attention toward the flowers and candles, was giving him more protection than any gun or bomb ever could, by showing him that there are more people who care than who kill.  More people who help than harm.  He is giving his son faith in the deep, natural tendency of humans to help each other, and softening his fear.  It is fear the terrorists want, fear that becomes a deadly viral infection if we can’t look away from the killing and focus on the caring.

When parents ask me how to protect their super sensitive children in a chaotic world, I tell them to focus their own and their children’s attention on what there is to be grateful for, to notice every sign of life, of love, of caring. The more we look for it, the more we see. We need to know that what we pay attention to expands in our world. Yesterday in an article written long before these most recent attacks, I encountered a quotation attributed to Plato:  “Even the God of War is no match for love.”

Notice the flowers and the candles.

3 Responses to “ “The flowers and the candles are for protection.””

  1. Shulamit November 18, 2015 at 2:43 pm #

    Ch. 2 of Genesis, G-d creates the Garden of Eden, and puts the human in it. The garden is described as providing that which is “beautiful to see and good to eat.” G-d gave us the most necessary things for us to flourish by: beauty and sustenance, in that order.

    The flowers and the candles will sustain us first.

  2. russ November 20, 2015 at 2:05 am #

    It’s really sad to see the spin on this video. He knows that candles and flowers can’t do the job. He loves his father, and will agree with him out of respect. The child is the only smart one here, he questions if flowers and candles can protect us from the mean and bad men with guns. He knows the truth, they should tell him the truth, it will take more than flowers and candles to stop the mean and bad people with guns, and we have more good people with gun’s to protect us from the bad ones with guns. We will just do a better job of protecting everyone in the future, and that’s what the flowers and candles represent, that’s why we are here to support them and one another, and to show the bad people that we are strong as a group. Tell the kid the truth, he gets it.

    • Stef November 20, 2015 at 2:32 pm #

      Hi, russ.

      I honor your story of reality, which of course you see not as story, but as “truth.” Your story is a familiar one, and this father’s is not so familiar–but there is a reason why it went viral so quickly, even though you deeply believe it is not “true.” The most common story in our world today (and in the past) is that to protect ourselves from guns we need guns; to protect ourselves from bombs we need bombs. How has that been working for us lately?

      My story, and from watching the face of that father I feel strongly that it is his story as well (that he is not “lying” to his son), is that killing other humans will not stop the killing. When *we* kill it is not better than when “they” kill. The candles are light. The flowers are beauty. These are absolute values as are the hugs that people have been giving each other in those places, and they are also symbols–of love rather than fear.

      Governments are busy telling (and acting upon) your story, your truth, and that makes me sad, but the very fact that there are those who have a different truth gives me hope for humanity. Our old patterns may yet change. We live into the stories we tell. I prefer my own and that father’s.

      But yours is shared by many people, and you have a right to tell it in any way you choose.

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