“But we have flowers,” the father assured his frightened little boy. The child was worried about “bad men with guns” who had come and done their worst.
Paris was devastated. The world quaked along with the child, because again we were faced with the truth that there are bad men with guns in the world. What father would say that flowers would provide protection for his child?
Three weeks after the terrorist attacks in Paris, as I write this, Malalwi has been hit. San Bernardino is reeling. But for now, it is a father and his son whose conversation (with subtitles) I first saw on Facebook that still grabs me.
The little boy – perhaps 3 years old – is afraid. And he is no fool. In a world with guns in the hands of “bad people” he says to his father, “But flowers can’t protect us.” The father tells him that the flowers and the candles are part of a memorial where they have gathered with others, and they’ll protect them.
Is this father lying? Is he telling his son an untruth because he doesn’t know how else to comfort him? Perhaps the father senses a deep truth. Those beautiful, soft, yielding flowers and those tenuous, flickering, vulnerable flames can help protect us from fear. They can calm us and reorient us, and draw hope from our deepest selves.
As individuals you and I can do little in the face of terrorism. But flowers can help protect us from the worst in ourselves. They can teach us the lessons of yielding, not to evil, but to fear. They can teach us to let go of our urge to retaliate and escalate. Along with songs of lament, prayers for peace, and coming together so that we see and can celebrate our common humanity, those yielding flowers and vulnerable flames are the only kinds of things that will ever teach us how to be safe in this world. Bombs won’t. Armies won’t. Only those things that come from the core within each of us that affirm the life we share with one another and all the rest of the created order.
We live in a world where lasting safety will emerge only when it is the fruit of interdependence. And to the extent that it is borne of compassion and mutual care, it will be the safety of flowers and candles. Our only assurance that this safety will last will be an assurance of faith. For many of us that faith rests with the Prince of Peace whose spirit is shared in all humankind – a faith that is “the substance of things hoped for ….the assurance of things not yet seen.” (Hebrews 11 :1)
This faith is fragile and powerful – fragile because it exists against all odds and powerful because it creates new possibilities, and in being shared, multiplies.
In France that day, a wise father shared this with his son – that trusting in what is ephemeral and yielding is the antidote to fear. The Christ who met domination with yielding taught us that the meek are blessed.
A future of peace and harmony will be ours only when we draw from our deepest selves and act on the truth that we all are one.
Leigh Waggoner is priest at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church. Reach her at 565-7865, or firstname.lastname@example.org.