Monday, March 26, 2012

gift for a son

“What can we give our children then, that won’t be outmoded, that won’t, under some eventuality that we cannot foresee, prove to be a handicap to them? I don’t know the answer to that one. Once I would have said “Ideas and Ideals.” But I grew up in the years after the first World War, when perpetual peace was supposed to be the easily attainable ideal. I was trained in that ideal, and I believed in it with all the sincerity of which I was capable. Perhaps it is still attainable – but if it is, it will be by some different means than those I was taught to trust in. I don’t want my child ever to feel as lost in the world as I do right now; nor do I want to inculcate in him the doctrine of force and aggression at no matter what sacrifice of the rights of others.

We can give him a happy childhood to remember, a way of life that he will be willing to die to protect, if the need arises. That sounds like a grim and Spartan gift to a little boy, but it’s not as dangerous a gift as the belief in pacifism and universal well-wishing to which my generation was exposed. I don’t want to raise my son to be a soldier – but if he has to be one, I want him to be a good and capable one. I want him to know what he’s fighting for – and Freedom and Democracy won’t mean a thing to him, unless they are all tied up with memories of things that he has loved ever since he can remember – things like the sound of the river, and the way [our dog] lies and dreams in front of the open fire on a crisp autumn evening, and the picnics we’ve held at Smooth Ledge. The name of his country won’t be worth fighting for, unless he can remember from experience that his country is the place, not of equal opportunity, not of universal suffrage, not of any of those lofty conceptions so far above a little boy’s ability to comprehend, but the place where he walked with his father down a woods road one evening and saw a doe and twin fawns; or the place where he came in from playing in the snow and found the kitchen warm and fragrant and his mother making pop-corn balls.

That’s all that I can give him; that’s all that I dare to try to give him – something that he will love enough to want to preserve it for himself and others against whatever danger may threaten from whatever quarter, and the toughness and courage with which to fight for it. To bring him up untouched by war, insofar as is possible in a world where no one is completely unaffected by war today, is about the only contribution that I know how to make for the future.”

-- Louise Dickinson Rich, We Took to the Woods, 1942