As much as I think it’s my job to teach my children, they continue to be my best teachers.
They act as a mirror to how I receive and react to the world around me. My children have taught me not only who I am, but who I aspire to be.
It’s like we’ve grown up together, only they are more mature. Now that they are young adults, I realize the lessons get more profound as they make their way independently in the world.
I’ve seen these two navigate the inevitability of good and evil in a world made more frightening by something as simple as a mobile phone and the internet with tentacles that reach into every aspect of their lives, every day, all the time. The hardest part is recognizing that I cannot keep up with it all, nor can I protect them. It’s their world now.
During a recent trip to Toronto, my daughter and I came upon a protest on the steps of Queen’s Park. About 200 people had gathered. Men chanted and ran about waving flags. Women, adorned with black head scarves, stood before them silently holding up protest signs with messages of injustices, bearing the faces of Hitler, Putin and others.
The public walked by the protest oblivious to the fuss. Just another day in Toronto. But my daughter stopped to take in the scene, trying to make sense of the messages, the juxtaposition of loud men and quiet women. There were many questions brewing in her mind. I needed to have answers.
There is a misunderstanding often attributed to autistic people like my daughter: that they don’t have empathy or can’t express compassion. Not true. They just hide their emotions tightly to prevent being overwhelmed by them. But my daughter trusts me and I could see in her face that she was trying to process the emotions she was witnessing in the protestors. With sincere concern, she asked me what she, as an observer, was supposed to do at a protest. How could she help these people?
With my embarrassingly limited knowledge of international politics, I tried to explain the signs referred to war crimes against humanity. It was a great forum to teach her how fortunate we are to be Canadian, to live in a nation that honours human rights. People come here from other countries for a better life, I explained, but also in hopes that we, as Canadians, will help make the world a safer place. It’s complicated, but it’s also really that simple.
All she had to do to express empathy for the protestors was take the time to witness their messages. That in itself was an act of compassion. Listen. Acknowledge. Educate yourself. Care.
Two weeks later, the United States assassinated Iran’s top military leader. Flight 752 was the target of an Iranian missile, killing 176 people, including 63 Canadians. This wasn’t close to home; this was home. My reaction had to hit home too.
Faith in humanity is a choice. There is good if you look for it, even in tragedy. I aspire to find it, but more, I aspire to represent it. For me. For her. For this messed up world.
I believe my children will aspire to do the same.