It’s a common observation that kids don’t have a good sense of their own mortality. Whether it’s from a deficit of wisdom, a surfeit of impulsiveness or adventurousness or even evolutionary reasons has been debated. I have my own ideas.
I thought about them again in the wake of the melancholy events at Virginia Tech where 33 students and faculty died in a mass shooting in which the shooter took his own life. As a parent it was hard not to think first of the mothers and fathers who had sent their children to a good university in a safe environment, only to see their lives snuffed out by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Mrs. R. pointed out to me that no one is mentioning the shooter’s parents who also lost a child, one whose death is mourned by no one else. Their lot must be a devastatingly lonely and uncomforted one, a compound of grief, loss, guilt and shame.
Parents have a special sensitivity to stories like this. We see it in the news all the time: young people killed by drunk drivers, dying in night club fires, toddlers hit by stray bullets while strapped into car seats, freak accidents of all kinds. If a blocked door saved some students, it may have doomed others as the shooter moved on to another classroom. If a daughter had not decided to change her purse, her car wouldn’t have been at that intersection at that exact instant. If a gun had pointed just a fraction of a degree in another direction the toddler wouldn’t have been hit. If friends had decided to skip the night club . . . When we have children we see vividly they are hostages to Fortune. It is a vivid reminder life can be very fragile even in the most robust. Which brings me back to my theory why kids think they are immortal.
They don’t have kids.