Let's help them be brave.

Please read this short blog post first.  I kind of know this blogger via my college BFF.  She’s awesome and her blog rocks.  But I have to take a different angle on this story Jenny shares about a friend of hers. 

This is really interesting to me.  Two kids got lost in the woods while on a hike at summer day camp – ah, 16 year old counselors…probably catching pikachus instead of keeping track of their campers.  So, this 5 year old and 7 year old, they eventually come out of the woods (great job, guys!) and a woman in a car offers to help them.  She did help them.  To me, this is a pretty good story with an optimal ending.  Kids get lost in the woods, find their way out, and get help from a nice person. Great!  

But, the mom of the children, it sounds like her biggest concern is that the kids accepted the woman’s help and got in a car with a stranger.  
Hmm.  I can see how your mind might race as you imagine the worst.  And I can see it as a great opportunity to reiterate how not everyone is safe, and we need to be careful around people we don’t know.  But.  
We have become so suspicious of people, that a good samaritan’s offer to help is now viewed as terrifying.  We say “think of what could have happened!” We say “thank God they were a good person!” as if it’s a miracle.  
Now, look. I don’t blame the mom for feeling that way.  We’ve created a world where it’s the norm.  Crime rates have remained fairly steady, but the 24 hour news cycle and social media have given us a window into the most horrific things that happen everywhere, every day.  It used to be that one really bad thing happened once a year in every town, and it scared everyone for a little while. But now we know about everything that happens everywhere. So we are always scared.  We don’t get a break from our fear.  So it drives us, instead of throwing us off track occasionally.  
Just yesterday, I helped a little girl on the playground find her mom.  It saddens me to think that the mom might have felt upset that her crying child willingly came with me so I could help her.  That she might have felt relief, quickly followed by chilling past tense “what if” fear.
I mean, aren’t MOST of us good?  I want to believe that the vast majority of us are in this together.  That MOST of us, by far, would stop what we’re doing to care for a child in need.  I want to believe that my kid has a better chance that a lady offering help is safer than being lost in the woods!  Because I am that lady.  Last year, I scooped up a two-year-old who was wandering around the mall by himself and got the security people and returned him to his distraught mother.  I can’t imagine not doing that.  
I tell my child that if she gets lost in the crowd, to find another mommy. (A woman who has kids with her.)  That seems like the safest thing to do. And I really believe that if she does that, chances are very high that she will be fine.  Honestly, I also believe that even if she went up to a completely random stranger (regardless of age, gender, etc) that they would help her.  Because when I imagine her doing that, I imagine her walking up to my dad, her principal, her pediatrician.  Not the guy from Silence of the Lambs. Aren’t there infinitely more people in this world who are safe than not safe??  
In this situation, if I had been that woman, I would have maybe just called the police and waited there with them, not just invited them into the car.  But I would have felt immediately responsible and would have taken care of them until they were safely returned to their family.  I have to believe that most people are like me in that way.  
I hope I’m not alone when I say that I can’t walk around in this world believing that most or even “a lot” of people are predatory.  I know way too many heroes to think that way.  I am in a world where many of us have dedicated our careers – using what we know, who we know and our talents to help others.  I spend my days with people who write big checks of their hard earned money to provide services for people whose lives are in ruin.  I know people who put their lives on the line and leave their families for many months to go overseas to keep us safe.  I know people who go into burning buildings to get someone out.  I know people who spend their weekends visiting homeless encampments so those people have something to eat and feel like they matter.  
There are bad guys.  I know that.  I’ve met some.  I’ve spent time visiting prisons and working with violent offenders, and with women who have been horrifically abused.  I’ve spent time with kids in hospitals who are there because someone hurt them on purpose.  My heart has broken because of the evil in the world.  
But I can’t live being afraid of everyone.  Sometimes I’m tempted to live scared.  When my child runs down the street to a friend’s house, I worry for a second.  About cars and strangers and tripping on those flip flops she insists on wearing.  There aren’t enough Hello Kitty band aids in this world to account for flip flops.  But if I live scared, she’ll grow up scared.  And I can’t have that.  This world needs brave, confident girls that turn into brave, confident women.  Women who rescue lost kids.  

I fail at this.  I make too many rules and remind her too often and too sternly to look both ways.  I freak out when she’s two minutes late.  I worry that she’s allergic to something she hasn’t encountered yet.  I eye up someone I perceive as creepy at Target and physically put myself between them and her.  I imagine the worst.  But I can’t let myself be that way unfettered.   I know that you can do everything right, and bad things still happen. We can’t control everything. We have to each figure out our own balance of safety and freedom.  Let’s help our kids live brave.  And the best way we can do that is letting go a little bit each day of our own fear.  And ban flip flops.