I went to see Dunkirk with my dad this weekend, a rare, baby-free outing inspired by my quest to find some activity to mark his upcoming birthday. I won’t spoil the movie for those who haven’t seen it, but the grimness of battle left me wanting to steal away with my little family to a remote corner of the world where we could remain untouched by war or any other threat by man.
Of course, it soon occurred to me that even running away couldn’t save us from the malevolence of the world, leaving me torn between guilt over bringing a perfect, innocent baby into such an imperfect world, and the desire to have ten more just like him to create more goodness.
But, before I become the little old woman who lived in the shoe, the movie left me wondering how to raise the one child I do have. His first birthday is suddenly less than two months away, and I’ve been agonizing over the best gift to get him. I’m drawn to heirloom over Little Tikes or VTech, so I’ve already ordered an engraved birthday knife, and I’ve spent the last few weeks debating between a wooden rocking horse or a wooden toy chest, something he could hopefully pass down to his own children one day.
What a privilege to think in terms of legacies and generations. If he’d been born in a different time, or even just in a different place, I’d be thinking in terms of minutes, not decades. It’s terrifying to think that that could someday change, and that it could even be likely to change in his lifetime.
So how do I raise him? To believe in goodness and beauty, and that one man can make a difference even when men’s lives are treated like a commodity? To be the weekend sailor who sails his private vessel into waters even the British navy will not? Noble, yes, but so dangerous, and oftentimes so futile.
But what is the other alternative? To do nothing and allow evil to flourish? What is the point of a life with no light to shine?
Dunkirk is good, but oh, so bleak. I kept trying to figure out what the Saving Private Ryan moment would be, the equivalence to the scene where Private Ryan, now an old man, stands surrounded by his family, obviously grateful for the sacrifices made, and which he repaid as best he could by a life well-lived.
The equivalency did come, in the form of newspaper articles and speeches, and I was struck by how the power of the word could make deaths feel not in vain, inspire the defeated, and outlive us all.
So I vowed to order the book of poetry I’ve been eying for a birthday present, and read it aloud to him even if one is too young to grasp the beauty of the words. I decided to find a classic novel to read for the first time since before he was born, in the hope that I could find something that would challenge my mind and that I could one day discuss with him.
And I chose to write this post instead of scrolling Facebook while he napped, in the hope that someone else would be inspired, too.