By Amy L. Hatch
My daughter has started to ask me who I’m voting for in the fall, which person I think should be president.
She wants to know about the two candidates who are running, and why I may or may not cast my ballot for one or the other. It opened up a series of conversations and a set of questions I was in no way prepared to answer.
And, the hardest question of all: Why are we at war?
My politics are beside the point. Politics are really just a grown-up’s way of justifying his or her actions. A way of codifying a set of beliefs that come from a wide variety of sources: From our families, from our histories, from our personal encounters with difficult life choices that are forged into convictions.
But how do we answer this question: Why are we at war? This innocent query comes on the heels of a terrible anniversary, the 11th year since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. It’s so complicated, so mired in human suffering and fear, so impossible for even a 41-year-old, well-educated woman to grasp.
Every day we do our best to make sense of the nonsensical. Why do I need to wear shoes? Why do I need to pee in the potty? Why do I have to say please and thank you? Why, why, why?
None of it makes sense, when you really think about it. The answer is usually, “because we have to.” But when it comes to violence and conflict and world peace (of the lack thereof), our answers are more fraught. What we tell our children when they ask us to define the world for them in black and white terms, even when they are 7 years old, will influence the way they think for the rest of their lives.
It is, frankly, terrifying.
When our kids are little—infants, babies, toddlers—our job is to keep them alive. Protect their fragile bodies from the forces that cause harm—stairs, sharp edges, traffic. As they get older, smarter and more aware of the (tumultuous) world around them, it is so much harder to keep them safe.
On September 11, 2001, I was dismissed early from work. No one was functioning. We were all glued to the television that someone dug out of a locked, empty office. I watched as the second plane hit the towers. I listened to the frantic mis-information pouring from every media outlet—the Mall in Washington, D.C. was on fire, the White House was under attack (which it would have been, were it not for the brave passengers on Flight 93).
I was 30 years old, but instead of going home I went to my parents’ house. There, I found my mother and father watching the news. I stood in front of the television and turned to my dad.
I asked him, “Why?”
“I don’t know,” he said to me.
So that’s what I told my daughter when she asked me again this week why we were at war. I was as honest as I could be.
Because some questions really are just too hard to answer.