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When death comes to Neverland

I remember the ride home from the hospital with each of them. Nine times, putting precious cargo - so tiny and new and miraculous - into the car. Nine times, driving ever so carefully, with the unspoken understanding between us that the world was a dangerous place and we were here on earth to protect our children.

Those precious, delicate newborns grew into sturdy toddlers with round cheeks and flaxen hair. They called lemonade "lemmalade" and New York "You Nork." And so did we, absorbing the unique language of our toddlers into the culture of our family. I really couldn't tell most days where they stopped and I began. My blue-eyed firstborn wore a Peter Pan costume every single day the year he was two. That costume is tucked away in my hope chest.

My husband works for ESPN. ESPN is owned by Disney. One of the happiest job perks ever is the magical adventure that is Disney World. I remember with exquisite detail the first time we took a cherubic, towheaded two-year-old to "see Mickey." It was right after I'd finished treatment for cancer. It was the stuff of dreams and fairytales. It is forever a golden memory.

By the grace of God.

In the blink of an eye, little boys can be snatched from safety into the jaws of alligators. This is not Peter Pan; it's a real life horror story. It strikes at the hearts of every parent who has ever held a chubby hand. And when it happens, the whole world knows almost instantly.

Just like we knew about the mass shooting earlier in the week.

And just like we knew about the gorilla who tossed a little one around a zoo a couple weeks before that.

We learn of horror almost as it happens.

Then something insidious takes over, something that threatens to forever eradicate the culture of love by handing it over to be devoured by the basest of human reactions. In our fear, in our recognition that life is fragile and we are threatened even in the happiest of places, in our utter helplessness against random acts of horror, we try to assuage ourselves. We look at our precious cargo and we reassure ourselves and anyone else listening that it couldn't happen to us. Fear drives our cruel accusations.

"I mean really. Where were the parents?"

"Good grief! Don't people from Nebraska know that alligators lurk in all Florida waters?"

"If I were at the zoo, I'd never once take my eyes off my child or even let go of his hand."

We do this so well because we are so practiced. Day after day, we consume so much more information about how to parent and how to manage life with children than any previous generation. Then, we comment and discuss. We sit anonymously behind keyboards and hurl things we'd never say if we had to look someone in the eye while saying it. Click by click, we become practiced at blame and shame.

Nearly every parent I know recalls the ride home from the hospital the way that I do. Nearly every parent I know felt that same sense of protectiveness and awesome responsibility. We all delight in the quirky things our toddlers say and we all want our family vacations to be full of nothing but joy.

And we are all terrified when we stop for even a second to think of how the raw grief of tragedy must feel. Please, stop there for a moment. Feel that pain with the parents. Don't run away from it. Don't numb yourself to it by spewing how it could never happen to you because you are a superior parent. Instead, let the grief wash over you and soften you and make you a better human being.

Then reach out in that grief and notice someone else's pain in real life today. Grant abundant grace, not contempt. Acknowledge that raising human beings is hard work and build someone else up in that effort. See the people away from your screen who hurt. Know that sometimes, despite all our best efforts, life is messy and heartbreaking. Don't distance yourself in judgment. Kneel next to someone in pain and help bind the wounds.

And don't let an alligator put human goodness in a death spin.

Foss, whose website is elizabethfoss.com, is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016