When she was four and a half I took my daughter to her first movie in a theater. Disney’s “The Fox and the Hound”. Five minutes into the film the momma fox is hiding her pup in the forest to protect him. Upon hearing the approach of hunters, she dashes off to lead them away from her little one.
The cute, confused face of the baby fox.
A distant gunshot.
Courtney looked up at me, unblinking. “What happened to the mommy, Daddy?”
Do I lie? God, look at that little face. I want her to be able to trust me. No, I think she can take it. She’ll understand. Be honest — gentle, but honest.
“She…… died, honey.”
There was no consoling her and we had to leave. So much for candor.
The disappearance of a dear one from our life will never be a feat of ease for those who must reckon with it. About six months later we found a dead finch in the yard and she started asking me about death.
“Am I going to die someday?”
“Every living thing has a beginning, a time to be, and an end. It happens to everyone, sweetheart.”
“Are you going to die someday?”
Do I break her heart again? Those adorable eyes…..
Long thoughtful look at my face. Then finally, “Where will you go when you die?”
“Well, I’m kinda hoping I’ll get to go to heaven.”
And that kicked it all off. I thought she would have been satisfied with a stock Sunday school answer. But she had to take it further and I was suddenly on unsteady turf.
At this point in my life I hadn’t really warmed to any kind of faith and her question got me thinking. There she was with those precious, searching eyes, waiting for an answer. Barely five years old and so curious about the big issues. When I was five I was lucky if I could figure out how the bathroom doorknob worked.
But still, that’s the eternal question, isn’t it — Where do we go? The answer I finally gave her is the answer I still hold to today.
When my mother passed away two years ago, I kept hearing my daughter’s question returning from 21 years before — “Where’s heaven?” For weeks after the funeral I could only think of all the wonderful things my mother had been to me — a personable, kind, morally decent, insightful, generous and witty woman who read aloud to her children. Also the single funniest person I ever met.
In my reminiscence of her, I tried to consider how Mom might have answered my daughter’s question had I been sharp enough to ask it of her myself. This is how I imagine she would have explained it…..
(© 2013 Michael J. Cahill)
“Where Shall We Go?” has always been
My favorite game with you
When you were small upon my knee
What traveling we would do
The yard beyond our windowsill — ?
An icy mountain steep
Or a Viking ocean full of storm
Or a jungle forest deep
The universe was ours to roam
By land and sea and air
By hawk and mule and rocket fuel
What journey’s we would share
There is one voyage separate
From all that we will take
But oh, my love, though by myself
I will not you forsake
Yes, by and by, one day I’ll die
As all God’s creatures must
But I shall spend eternity
As something more than dust
And if I go to heaven
We will not be far apart
For don’t you know, my darling child
That heaven’s in your heart