“Every parent’s worst nightmare”. The phrase you only ever hear when the nightmare has come true for someone. Usually on the news, usually at a safe (for you) distance: close enough to your own circumstances to imagine the unimaginable horror.
Sometimes the nightmare comes too close, is too real. You see all its shades of horror, the grim, grey cast it lays over the present and the future. The fracture of lives, the detaching of the past into another, irrecoverable, country.
I won’t be the only parent to drop a fierce kiss on their child’s head on hearing news of tragedy; not the only one to lift sleeping small girls or boys out of bed, to hug them close and whisper into their hair.
When we have a child, we carve a piece from our heart and set it to live outside of ourselves. We admit ourselves hostages to fortune. Beyond the limits of our ability to comfort and protect lie dragons; spectres of illness and accident and harm. Like the monsters of my children’s fears, they lurk in dark corners and quiet moments; but unlike theirs, they are not to be banished with kisses and reason.
How to baffle these malign fates? I can’t paint my children’s faces, to distract malevolent spirits from their beauty. I can’t, despite my faith, light candles and pray to guardian angels. I wonder sometimes if these primeval instincts have transferred to the digital age in the compulsion to forward emails, or retweet links, or “like” Facebook pages which deal with horrors affecting children: a subconscious attempt to placate and divert evil forces in a time when we have lost simpler or clearer beliefs.
Me? I think I hold my luck like water in my hands. Frightened even to gaze too closely at as I walk, lest my glance should trouble the reflection. Sometimes the gift of happy, healthy children feels impossibly fragile. So I walk, eyes ahead, trying not to hold on too tight.
Edited version of piece first posted in October 2012