Thursday, September 24, 2009

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

So my boys, ages eight and nine, come home last night terrified after hearing a ghostly tale from the neighborhood pow wow. It was too dark for them to retell it to me, so I sent them to bed with the light on and the advice of filling their minds with good things like sliding down a rainbow into a pool of Skittles.

They were up early and still scared out of their wits. I asked them to tell me the story by the light of day. Here is how it goes:

A mom killed her baby because he was ugly. She couldn't stand the sight of his ugly face so she wrapped his head in a white cloth mask, cut off his head and threw him in the lake. (Nice, I know.)

Years later, she had twin daughters age ten. They were home alone when they got a series of calls on the phone: "It is baby mask, I am at the lake."... "It is baby mask, I am ten miles away."... "It is baby mask, I found your kitchen window unlocked." "It is baby mask, I am at your bedroom door."

Now here it seems, the story has two different endings, the real ending and the new one made up by a neighbor.

The original ending had the parents or sisters hiding under the couch (it was unclear in the retelling) when baby mask comes home. He lifts the cushions and sees them and says, "Good bye Mummy, Good bye Daddy." And disappears never to be seen again.

The new and improved version has baby mask chop down the door of his sisters' closet, cut off their heads and emerge to his parents on their return with one of the heads on his own shoulders and the question: "Am I pretty enough now mommy?"

I took my coffee out on the porch for awhile. When I came back in I said:

"I agree the stories were ghastly. But I think they may have had some good lessons in them." They looked at me like I was nuts. I continued anyway:

"Let's think about what this could all mean. Ghosts do not really walk the earth, but many authors have had them do so. Why are most ghosts we have read about, like Oscar Wilde's Canterville Ghost, roaming around?" This led to a discussion of all the ghosts we know and how they had bad deaths and were not at peace.

"And what started this whole story, what can we learn?" Older son thought mothers should not kill their babies. Younger son added, "Ugly people might grow up to be beautiful, so you shouldn't kill them."

We went on to discuss the old fairy tales where the good were always beautiful and the bad ugly. I explained how the authors used this to show us their insides. We discussed how Shrek had put a new twist on it. But the message was the same, it is how we act and what we do that makes us beautiful. I told them the story of Dorian Grey.

I suggested that Baby Mask might represent the conscience of his mother. We discussed how when we do things that are bad, we are reminded of them all the time and they make us afraid. Younger son recalled how he had nightmares for days after playing video games illegally until he fessed up.

We talked about what Baby Mask wanted from his mother. The answer was to be loved even though he was ugly. We decided if the mom had gotten on the phone and begged him to come home, threw herself at his feet and apologized, Baby Mask could have left in peace without killing anyone.

Older son is very literal. He said that babies who are aborted go to heaven, they don't become murderes. I told him he was right, but that this was not a true story. What could the daughters represent and why would Baby Mask kill them? We discussed how a guilty conscience can destroy everything we love. Even though she killed her ugly son and loved her beautiful daughters, in the end, she killed them all. Her guilt (which Baby Mask represented) eventually killed those things she did love.

We decided you can not be happy until you apologize for the evil you have done.

They seemed more at ease and I returned to my coffee. Then I thought of another point the story illustrated.

We have been talking a lot about natural consequences to our choices lately. I told them my own horror story:

A little boy is bullied in kindergarten, he is bullied in every grade in elementary school. When he gets to high school, he starts stealing dogs and cats in the neighborhood and killing them. He steals from every store he walks into. He grows up and goes to jail and when he dies he goes to hell.

Each kid that bullied him suffered from their choices. (They already have this part down). But also, they each contributed to sending a boy to jail and eventually to hell. Our bad choices don't just affect us. We are not in this world alone.

But wait, I said as they nodded in sad acknowledgement. The story could have a different ending. This boy is bullied by everyone. Except, one brave boy in kindergarten stands up for him. Then in fifth grade, another little girl tells the kids they are mean. Then in eigth grade, a boy defends him and they become friends. They start playing catch in the school yard at recess. They go out for the high school baseball team and make it. Then they go own to become professional baseball players.

One person's good choices can change the course of history. Our choices can lead not only us, but others to heaven. They both had a look of hope in their eyes.

But I was only looking at younger son. We have had the talk so many times about growing up to be a man of character and most of the time his answer is that he doesn't want to be one and he doesn't care about natural consequences. I realized I had presented it the wrong way. He doesn't care about saving himself, which is sad but true. However, he does want to save Baby Mask, the neighborhood dogs and cats and the bullied boy. I could tell by the look in his eye, he got it. His choices aren't just about him. I don't know how long it will last, but all day today, it was a good day.

And what did I learn:
Good CAN come from the ghastly. Isn't this how God works in our world.

Oh, and we also learned: Always remember to lock the kitchen window!


  1. I like your observation that one good decision on the part of one person to treat someone well who had been treated badly can change their whole live and the lives of others. I am one of those people for whom that one good deed was never done.

    For a long time, I believed in god, but finally I concluded that if he exists, he does not have a plan for me. It's much easier now to just believe that he does not exist.

    Don't you worry about teaching your kids how the world "could be" rather than how it really is? Do you worry that you are setting them up for disappointment?

    I enjoy reading your blog. You are a person of very strong faith. Has it ever been really tested?

  2. Anonymous:
    For my children, and for you and me the question is always how it "could be". We do not need to be taught how it is. We know. Disappointment comes so very naturally. It is hope that must be nurtured.

    That the one good deed was not done for you, unfortunately is not God's fault. He has given his creatures Free Will. Humanity may have let you down, I assure you, God has not. Just because His creatures fell short in your case does not mean He doesn't have a plan for you. Perhaps you are stronger than you know. Perhaps his plan is not to have others do things for you to change your world, but for you to do something for someone else to change His world.

    I assure you my faith in humanity is often tested. My faith in myself is daily challenged. Read Stress (April Archive) My faith in God has not been tested, in the sense that I have never lost the knowledge that he exists and loves me. I pray daily to escape the dark night of the soul experienced by the most holy. (The spiritual darkness of losing the assurance and consolation of God's existence which requires a complete act of the will to force oneself to believe with out the slightest feeling that He is near.) As I have been granted my prayer, it only proves I am weak and do not count among the greatest friends of God. When I am ready, he will hide from me to allow me to prove my love. I am not ready. Perhaps you are.

    Whether you believe it or not, we belong to the Mystical Body of Christ. God's love transformed the world and His son transformed human suffering forever. It is only through our suffering that we can really understand love. I am sorry you have been denied by man the feeling of being loved. But you are never denied the opportunity TO love. That is your gift from God and to embrace it is your choice. He loves you and asks that you love others for him. If you have not known the love of humanity, do not give up on God. Believe in His love for you and learn that in loving others (especially those hardest to love) you will know He is there.

    I will pray for you.