Tuesday, April 16, 2013

On Tragedy and Testudo

In ancient Rome, soldiers were trained to employ the testudo – or “tortoise” – position during battle.  The formation involved a group of warriors who joined their large, individual shields together with the men inside to create a fairly effective defense against enemy attacks.  Just a few days ago, Maya and I studied the testudo formation in our history lessons.  I didn’t know how firmly that picture would plant itself in my mind this week.

I formed some shields around my kids yesterday.  A vague threat written on a bathroom wall targeted school children in our county and gave Monday’s date as a warning.  My daughter being homeschooled, we were mostly unaffected, although my son did go to his morning preschool.  The extra police presence around town and schools was obvious, nonetheless, and I had to deflect some questions and hide newspapers.  Ultra-sensitive, my kids did not need to know about the anxiety many parents in our county were feeling as watched clocks ticked too slowly toward the sight of returning yellow buses. 

Afternoon came with the blessed relief of no local incidents, but then my news feed was overtaken with the horrific news out of Boston.  Again, I guarded my children from the reports.  Turned the laptop screen away, ducked into another room to compose myself after hearing that one victim was the same age – eight – as my oldest.  Unfathomable.

It’s hard to know how best to protect our kids, and what sort of shelter should be our goal.  I told Mark last night that it’s tempting to construct a bubble.  To form a testudo, and never leave home.  Over coffee with friends yesterday morning we mused that the area kids were likely safer at school that day than the three of us were sitting in a Starbucks.  The realization was equal-parts comforting and chilling. 

This world is just so horribly broken.  

Many local parents yesterday chose to shelter their children from potential danger by keeping them home from school.  In some districts, the average attendance was just 40% of normal numbers.  Others chose to send them, choosing to shelter them by not keeping them home.  I think they were all probably as right as could be.  We’re all just doing our best to do the best thing, aren’t we? 

We want to protect without stifling, nurture toward independence.  Encourage wise caution without alarmism, because He has not given us a Spirit of fear – and does not want us to live under it.  We want to water the seeds we’ve planted of a faith that calls us to lay ourselves down, and that neither guarantees or obsesses over physical safety.  A confidence that will step into adulthood ready to walk and speak a bold love and strong hope to this messed-up, hurting world.  And yet, sometimes we wish we could keep them in cribs, drive them in armored cars, and never let them leave our sights.  Because they are our babies, and we desperately want to hang onto the illusion of complete control for as long as we possibly can.

How, then, to parent in these times?  Even as I type that, I recognize the almost laughable implication in those words that assumes we somehow face more difficult circumstances in present-day America than have parents under violent, tyrannical governments throughout history; parents raising children in the midst of civil and world wars during the past few centuries; countless parents around the world right now holding their beloved babies as they perish from hunger and preventable disease.  We long for a redemption awaited by humanity since the Garden.  As people holding up the hope of Christ, we know with certainty that it is coming.  These days of waiting, though - of shed blood and lost innocence, of securities chipped away with every new discovery of another place we are not safe - they keep our hearts so heavy.  They tempt us to hoist those shields and huddle inside.  My arms strain under the weight of trying.

The thing is – the testudo wasn’t invincible.  Strong though the armor was, and dedicated as were those who carried it, the battle was real, and arrows got through.  What’s more, the heavy load carried in that position was awkward and cumbersome.  It was difficult to move, and kept those inside merely on the defensive.  They couldn’t do much but peek out from behind their shields and shuffle clumsily through the field.

I had a late afternoon eye exam yesterday, and the waiting room was near-silent.  Patients distracted from their check-in clipboards, doctors pausing as they walked by.  We all sat transfixed by the lobby television, with a cable news station broadcasting images of the bombing over and over again.  The door opened and an Amish mother, having arrived by horse and buggy, entered with her two young children.  She sat to fill out the requisite paperwork, and her daughter busied herself with a toy.  The little boy, though, was obviously drawn to the screen overhead.  He first glanced up intermittently, but soon stared frozen, eyes so very wide at the slow-motion video of blast and smoke, debris and blood.  My heart broke as I watched him take in this scene – a rare glimpse for this boy of life outside his community.  Why this?  What must he be thinking? 

And I felt it again.  That feeling of having no idea how air-tight to construct our shelters.  The tension of wanting to invest in heavy-duty bubble wrap and some ancient Roman armor and strive desperately to offer my children an experience of the world that forever tastes like lollipops and looks like Sesame Street, and at the same time wanting them to be brave and bold, fully in the world while – by His grace – not of it. 

The testudo will not evade every arrow.  It will, in fact, make it difficult for them to move. 

I want my children to live with love and joy and abandon.  Travel and explore.  Run the Boston Marathon and stare down fear. Preparing them for that life is going to take such a careful balance of positioning shields and setting free.  It will require wisdom and trust levels that will stretch my own faith to levels previously unknown.  My only tactic that will always prove effective will be a steady formation of prayer.  Lifting up these battle-weary hands and letting Him relieve the weight. 

Today, though, I’ll be honest.  I read the local and national headlines and dream of building that bubble, of living under a permanent testudo and placing my trust there.  Join me in an armored tortoise, anyone?

It’s not what I really want.  It just sounds pretty good today.

Image credit: Wikipedia

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