Here’s a fun thing about kids: They teach you a ton. But they only teach you part. They’re like art in that way. They make you notice things you forgot to pay any attention to. They are one, relentless, breathing, never-ending question. It’s up to us to take their noticing and their questions and turn it into little bits of better understanding.
One of the big Noticed Things in our house began the first time my beautiful, cherubic firstborn asked to be for Halloween the dark-cloaked, heavy-breathing evil capable of choking a man to death simply by using his mind. Having celebrated Halloween only on the fringes as I grew up (we were more the autumn festival types), I had to sorta weigh my feelings toward the Vader. I basically made peace with that first imitation of the dark side, because Darth Vader began and ended as Anakin, making him a full-circle redemption sort of story I could get behind. But from the first time John said, in essence, I want the costume of evil, and I asked WHY?!? The answer, the big Noticed Thing, was spoken thus and entered the annals of our family history: Because, Mom, bad guys have the best stuff.
It’s a truth established in stone around here. Jake repeated it the other day, when he shopped online, his recent Christmas windfall burning a hole in his pocket. “This is what you want?” I said. “An Orc and his giant, snarling rat-beast? WHY?!” You remember, Mom, he said. Bad guys have the best stuff.
Every time. Darth Maul gets the swooping black cloak, war paint, and double-sided saber. Jedis wear bath robes. The White Witch leads an army of sharp-toothed, clawing beasts and menotaurs. The Narnians are led by children. And don’t even get me started on Lord of the Rings. Battle after battle of terrifying inequality between hoards and hoards of evil against barely-armed men, women, and children who are all beating heart and no gristle.
If you’ll notice, all of these are fiction. These are the stories WE tell. Why are we doing that? Why are we giving the bad guys the best stuff?!
This is the better understanding I have come to from the Big Noticed Thing. These are the stories we tell because it’s what we believe. It’s the spell we are currently under.
Cancer and Aids are still bigger than us. Not as bigger as they used to be. But definitely bigger. Too often, they win. They reach farther and wreak more havoc than we can wreak on them. Even the medicine we use to fight them – it kind of hurts us as it goes. Depression takes our friends and family members way too much. Black, sweeping cloak, little beating hearts. Evil breaks us. We are painfully, deeply, unswervingly aware of our humanity. And it is so thin and so fragile compared to almost everything else.
The good news is that we keep telling the story. Over and over we paint a picture of the bath-robed little children armies leading a charge against the dark tower of evil with all the better stuff. And the children win. They win because just beneath our fragile skin and the thick conviction that evil is bigger than us, there lives the other belief, the one convinced that beating hearts are better. The hearts wrapped in humble cloth, they are fighting for the greater good, the deeper good. They’re willing to die for the beauty of the shire, and because of that they can stand just long enough to find the tiny vulnerability in the big, bad orc who is mindlessly fighting for nothing and no one that matters.
Have I mentioned how much I love Batman? I really like that guy. I used to think it was because eventually Cowboy played him. (Christian Bale’s character in Newsies.) But now I’m wondering if it’s because this is one story where the good guy has some pretty sweet toys. And the magnificent black cloak. But I don’t think that’s the reason all three of my boys have been Batman and Spider Man and other good guys at least a few more times than they have been Darth. I think it’s because they are just like you and me. We know the bad guys have the better stuff, and we continue to give them the better stuff in our stories, because it makes a much better war for the fragile, beating heart to win. That’s the story we want to hear. That is the story we want to be.
Evil can have its horns and its cancer and its armies of mindless drones with wolf-beasts. Depression still gets our friends sometimes. It is terrifying. We can’t give up. We have to stay standing for when that tiny weakness is in sight. I can’t promise which of the battles we will win. I only know the answer must be in the hope that Someday belongs to the good ones, the beating hearts, willing to die for it, convinced the war is ours.