We stood on the very ridge that a man stood on to take photos of Mount St. Helen’s erupting, the very spot he and his friends and family fled from, fast, as mud and ash and rock hit their windshield. It was chilling to say the least, staring ahead at the huge carved-out rock face, looking at the leafless barren logs standing like toothpicks out of a desert-like rubble, so vastly different from the dense green forest we’d been driving through up the mountain, that we’d been hiking through for days.
“Wow,” Big G said. “This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen.”
It was hard to explain, the fear Mount St. Helen’s wrought, like the much-talked-about time Oscar and some friends were playing around a deep well unchaperoned and one of the kids’ pants fell down into it, luckily not while the child was wearing them. Something happened. Horrible things can happen.
The sheer force of nature was vastly evident as we toured Windy Ridge and looked on to the volcano that erupted when I was 11, the age Eli is now. Plants and flowers are just starting to grow in little bursts through the pumice stones in some places.
As G kept shaking his head, not believing the sight before his eyes, talking about the powerful devastation that had occurred, Eli looked right at him. “Are you scared?” Eli said.
“No,” G said firmly. “But it could happen again.”
I wanted to step in, to say something to allay the children’s fears. But this was the point of seeing Mount St. Helen’s, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it a reminder to us all, to my children in lieu of religious school, that there was something far bigger and more powerful than us?
Staring at the immense mountain beyond, still spewing lava we could not see, it seemed more clear than usual. The lesson loomed large. Things happen. We are not in control.
There had been so many warning signs on our trip, about bears and rough road, sliding rocks and timber. The Pacific Northwest was full of natural things we weren’t at all used to being afraid of at home, in the city, where crossing streets and eating too much sugar, maybe a random groping, seemed to be our greatest dangers. That’s why we were here, wasn’t it, to step out from in front of screens and zip line through the trees at Whistler, to raft through the rapids at Squamish underneath a bald eagle, to pick the very berries bears might have eaten if they’d gotten there before us on the moss-lined trails along Lake Quinault in Olympic National Park?
It was good to remember that we weren’t so much in control, that we were living in a world where things could happen at any time and we just had to learn to be brave and weather them.
It was horrible to read about the shooting in Colorado and to see, even with just a passing glance, how the news coverage used the event to stoke more fear and anxiety about personal safety. Something happened. Horrible things can happen. We know this all the time, but then something we see or hear about triggers our fear, causes us to retrench and re-think how free we can be or should be in the world.
We read about those who lived in the shadows of Mount St. Helen’s in the weeks before she blew. They lived where they wanted to live, they went on as normal even as they watched and studied her, even as they knew: something’s going to happen.
I am bowed by such people, who stand tall in the face of the awesome and inexplicable and push forward, unafraid.
I hope these are the stories my children will think of back home, that will help buoy them as they face fears of any kind. I hope as metaphorical mountains explode in little ways every day, they will be able to stand tall and strong against them, to live the way they want to live, not clueless but still calm.
Read Fearless Parenting every other Thursday on BrooklynPaper.com.