I hate bringing up tragedies involving children. I constantly go there in my head, worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. Getting blindsided by these terrible stories have made me want to stop reading social media, and even watching television. So I really hesitate to talk about the most recent tragedy on this blog. But I think it’s important not just because of what happened and the lessons we can learn from it (i.e., you’re never safe from gators in Florida), but because of our reaction: Blame.
Blame Disney for not having better signage — although I agree that would help. “No swimming” to me means “The water is gross” or “There’s no lifeguard here” not “You may be eaten by a wild animal.” Plus, gators could attack people who are at the water’s edge. Why were there even “movies on the beach” when alligators could be lurking on said beach?
Blame the parents — why were they letting their kid wade in the water at 8 o’clock at night? Why weren’t they right next to him? Well, maybe they were right next to him. I couldn’t stop my kid from falling into a coffee table and needing 12 stitches when I was right next to him. I doubt I could have stopped a four to seven foot gator that was faster than it looked. As for why they were out so late, blame the movie night on the beach for that.
But didn’t they think about the gators? They were from Nebraska. Without signs or some kind of literature distributed to guests, how would they know? What’s common knowledge for Florida residents or people who travel to the south frequently might not be on the radar of midwesterners. This is supposed to be a safe place. The happiest place on earth.
But none of this is really the point. We could debate all day long how this could have been prevented. No doubt those parents will be thinking about that for the rest of their lives. Woulda coulda shoulda. Hindsight is 20/20. Disney will make the appropriate corrections, and those parents will replay the night in their minds. “If only we had done things differently,” they will ask themselves.
So why the endless debates? Why, after a child gets into a gorilla pit and a $15,000 Lego exhibit is destroyed by a kid and a child is killed by an alligator, do we — the internet, strangers — feel the need to play the blame game?
I thought it was about sanctimommies. But I think it’s actually bigger than that.
It’s actually not about the parents of the child at all. Like any bullying, it’s not about the victims. It’s about the bullies themselves.
Bullies appear confident, arrogant, full of swagger and self-assuredness. Bullies can be mean, but they are always sure they’re right. Bullies are strong.
Except they’re not. Not at all.
Bullies are scared. Bullies are cowards. Bullies bully because they lack confidence, and bullying makes them feel like they have power over something. Bullies know, deep down, that they are not right. Bullies have no self-awareness. They bully to feel better about themselves.
Bullies aren’t just kids. Bullies can be grown-ass adults who are scared shitless that something like this could happen to them. But instead of facing up to that, they deny it. They say they are sure, 100 percent positive, that such a tragedy could never, in fact, happen to them. That their parenting skills and abilities are so much better than these people’s, or the gorilla mom’s, or the Lego parents’, that they spew all over the internet how they would have done it differently. But deep down they must know it’s not true.
It’s easy to be a Monday morning quarterback.
What’s more, it’s easy to pretend that everything in life happens for a reason. There is perhaps no platitude I hate more. Maybe it works when you’re talking about things that were unplanned but had positive outcomes. But you know what it doesn’t work for? Death.
Death, especially when it affects the young, is tragic and horrible and doesn’t make sense. You can try to look for an explanation, but there is no rhyme or reason to it. It affects good people and bad people. It isn’t just doled out to people who deserve it. It’s chaotic and unpredictable.
Kids themselves are chaotic and unpredictable. Side note: my son is now very into dinosaurs, so I showed him the parts of Jurassic Park that aren’t violent (pretty much only the baby velociraptor being born and the sick triceratops). But watching further in after he’d gone to bed, I realized how much I related to Ian Malcolm’s (Jeff Goldblum) theory of chaos, particularly as it applies to children:
I love kids! Anything can and does happen.”
Dr. Malcolm gets it. You cannot say with total certainty what will happen to your children. This is why parenting is so terrifying. You can watch them. You can try to follow all the rules. You can feed your kid all organic and make sure his car seat is buckled properly and teach him how to cross the street and obey the no swimming sign.
Except maybe one time you make a mistake. You misinterpret the no swimming sign, because that sign is not very clear. And something tragic happens. Because you are human. Because you erred. Because you were not infallible.
For the rest of us, we don’t want to believe that we could have been that parent. So if we can find someone or something to blame, it will protect against it ever happening to us. If it is everyone’s fault but our own, nothing tragic will ever befall us or our kids.
But life — and death — doesn’t work that way. The world does not follow set patterns. Bad things happen to good people. Horrific tragedies don’t make sense. We spend our life hoping and praying that one doesn’t happen to us. But it could, and we have to live with that.
Where is God in all this? Funny you should ask. I have no idea. But I certainly don’t believe there is some big plan that we’re all a part of. Because death is never a good thing, unless maybe the person was old or suffering. How can the death of a child be part of a plan? I’m reminded of a quote from the fantastic movie Rabbit Hole, about a mom (Nicole Kidman) whose son is hit by a car and killed in front of her home. She goes to a support group, and a fellow parent who’d lost a child (funny how there’s no one word for that, like there is for widow or orphan) says that God must have needed their child to be an angel. Nicole thinks this is bunk:
Why didn’t He just make one? I mean, He’s God after all. Why didn’t He just make another angel?”
Look, I’ve been through six miscarriages. I’ve held my tiny baby of 17 weeks gestation in my arms. Like those who can see thestrals in Harry Potter, I’m a member of that unfortunate club that has known death. So I’ve done a lot of soul-searching about what bad things mean in the universe. I’ve tried and tried to come up with an explanation. Brighter minds than mine have spent their whole lives trying to figure that out. So what did I discover?
Nothing. Not a damn thing.
Basically, shit happens. Sorry, but it does. The world is full of chaos, uncertainty and horrible things. As much as the blame-gamers want to find a cause, because then they can protect themselves against it, it just doesn’t exist. We are human and we make mistakes. Accidents happen. Obviously reasonable safety precautions should be made. But beyond that, we’re on our own.
Does this sound really, really negative? Maybe. But for me realizing this was freeing, to accept that I don’t have power over death, that no one does, maybe not even God. So I can just live every day fully and realize that each day is valuable in and of itself. Nothing is guaranteed, so I try not to take anything for granted. And while I still see danger and tragedy lurking around every corner, I’ve come to realize that I can only do my best and spend the time I have here wisely.
Strangely, this outlook has allowed me to see not only the tragic things in life for what they are (meaningless), but the good things in life for what they are (meaningful). I can appreciate the birds chirping and the flowers blooming and the wind blowing while I sit outside and watch my son play. Things that seemed mundane and ordinary are special. Tradition and family and love — these are the things I’m trying to focus on now, not all the negative stuff. We simply don’t have the time on this planet to do that.
I’ve stopped trying to figure it out. I’ve stopped trying to find blame. It’s a work in progress, but I’m getting there.
What do you think about placing blame when tragedy occurs? How do you find meaning in the universe when bad things happen?