I drove home in a daze, both listening and not listening to NPR, wondering how anyone could be talking about anything other than the bombings at the Boston Marathon. I knew they had no new information to report just a few short hours after the explosions happened, but I just wanted to hear all of the old information over and over again. There is comfort in repetition.
When I finally got home, my husband, Tim, was in his recliner, petting the dogs and watching ESPN. Surprisingly, they had some of the better coverage in the early hours of this tragedy, probably because they were already there covering the marathon.
I didn’t say anything. I just stood there, next to his chair, and watched. He put an arm around my legs and I flopped on the armrest.
I’m never having children, I thought. How can someone bring a child into this world? This world where, just a few months ago, someone walked into a grade school with no reason to be there — no connection to the school or anyone working or attending there — and brutally murdered first graders and school staff. This world where planes crash into skyscrapers and they fall to the ground. This world where someone walks into a movie theater and shoots people just for the fun of it. This world where someone shoots people worshiping in a temple because he mistook Sikhs for Muslims; this world where someone would want to shoot Muslims because they are Muslim.
My thoughts turned to my friend at work who had given birth that day, and her baby who would always share a birthday with this tragedy. I thought of my other friend who is planning on welcoming twins into this world in October and taking the rest of the school year off to be with them. I thought of my childhood best friend whose daughter is almost a year old. And I thought, I am so lucky to not have children. Granted, their children are all too young to understand these heinous events, but they will grow older, and if this year is any indication, the world will only get worse. How do you deal with questions from a young child about why and what happened when these tragedies inevitably take place? I wasn’t even sure what I would tell my high school students in class the next day.
They say the eight-year-old boy who died in Boston that day was waiting for his dad to cross the finish line. They say his mother and sister were critically injured, as well. This could have been us. My husband, a marathon runner, has always wanted to run the Boston Marathon. We could have been there, and being in our late 20’s, we could have easily had a couple of kids in tow. We could have been cheering Dad on. And all I could think of was that I was so glad we weren’t.
My gratitude toward living without children is not a new thing; I never wanted kids. I remember being five years old and playing at a friend’s house. I looked up from the baby doll I was playing with to my mom and said, “I don’t think I want to have kids.” She responded, “You don’t have to, sweetie,” and it was decided; I was going to remain child-free for the rest of my life.
Tim, luckily, felt the same way, and we started planning trips and thinking about our life with just the two of us. We adopted two dogs thinking they would be the only babies we would take on. We went to California on a whim – twice. We even went to Boston last summer. Basking in the summer glow while eating the best seafood in the world on restaurant patios, I fell in love with the city. Stopping in every bar we thought looked interesting and trying all of Boston’s famous beers, I fell in love with our life — we didn’t have kids and we could do whatever we wanted.
When we got home to the house we had just bought only a month before, things started to change. The doors to two of our four bedrooms remained constantly closed because we didn’t know what to do with them. We finally turned one into a guest room, but the other — the one between our bedroom and my office — remained empty. I don’t remember who first started it, but we started calling that room “the void in our lives.”
We filled the time — and the “void” — with dinner parties and date nights, books and dog walks, but something was different. Somewhere, it had been decided that we were going to have children, and probably soon.
But that Monday, looking at graphic pictures of lost limbs strewn about streets we had just walked not even a year before, knowing that this could have been any marathon anywhere — it could have been Tim ––and hearing about yet another child dying senselessly, I changed my mind. Better not to open yourself up to that kind of heartbreak at all. I might have started to think that raising a child well could be the ultimate good deed for the world, but how can anyone go on doing good in a world that is so disgustingly bad?
My answer came in the unlikely form of a former student, who had written me that evening in response to a Facebook status of his I commented on, telling him his tolerance in spite of tragedy made me proud. He wrote to me and told me that it was my teaching that allowed him to be as tolerant as he was, and it was my teaching that gave him a strong sense of right and wrong. And it occurred to me: We go on doing good in the face of horrible tragedy because we must. We raise children who do good things for the world — whether those children are our own or our students — because, if we don’t, we risk facing an even worse world.
It wasn’t the Boston Marathon bombings that had me thinking I didn’t want kids; it wasn’t even the sum of all the national tragedies I’ve experienced from Columbine to now. It was a deep fear that opening yourself up to a love like that can only lead to heartbreak. It’s the same fear that had me convinced I’d never get married when I was in college, and that fear made me tell my now husband that I would never marry him or anyone when we first started dating. It’s the same fear that made me want to run from the permanence of home-buying and rent apartments in the city for the rest of my life.
The politicians and essayists keep saying that we can’t let the fear win, and they are right. My life doesn’t look anything like I thought it would when I was younger, but that’s because it was one born out of fear, not desire. Letting that fear go can be a very cathartic experience. It sounds cliché, but there can be no greatness without taking a few risks.
Tim and I probably won’t have a baby any time soon, but we will, and when we do, I’ll still be scared out of my mind, probably for the rest of my life. However, I’ll love my family more than I can even imagine, and we will raise a fantastic child. We will teach our child to grow up and do well, but more importantly, grow up and do good.