My son skids, sock-footed, around the corner, wielding two finger guns.
“POW!! POW POW!!”
An area next to the front door gets blown into imaginary smithereens. The guns become ordinary, slightly grubby fingers again.
“It’s ok, Mama,” he reassures me. “It was just a couple of bad guys.”
I give an internal sigh, because I hear a lot about baddies and goodies at the moment. At five, I guess it’s just an age and stage thing. But I really, really dislike it.
“Instead of shooting them…” I suggest diffidently, “…couldn’t we try to help them be a bit better? Not so bad?”
He turns a look of complete incomprehension onto me. They’re bad guys, the look says. That means bad, all the way through, and deserving of total annihilation.
Maybe I’m kidding myself that I can break a five year old of black and white thinking. But it seems so damaging to me, to categorise the world into good and evil, right and wrong, worthy of heaven or hell.
How do you find the words to say to a young child that we all have threads of darkness running through us? Selfishness and greed. Rage and jealousy. Frustration and dishonesty and hate.
Each of us has them woven, inextricably, into our personalities. The impulse to do the wrong thing, the easy, gratifying option. Every one of us the hero of our own movies, busily justifying the worst of our impulses. Convincing ourselves that we are part of the good guys.
How do I explain the everyday magic in being given each day afresh, to make the choices that are brave, and hard, and right? And to get more of them right than wrong, and know that is doing well enough?
The danger is to believe any single part of us is us. Good or bad. Who we are changes, on an everyday basis, a process of renewal and rebirth that we have choices over. At any moment, we can do the right thing.
The people that forget that are the ones who get lost, wandering in the darkness.
But you can’t say that to a five year old. Of course you can’t. So I hug him, and thank him for keeping me safe from the bad guys, and hope that he learns the lesson as he grows up.
I’m thirty eight, and still learning it myself.