We are children, all of us, not entirely at home in this world because in a deep place, maybe a forgotten place, we realize there is something else, something more. Which is why crimes against children are especially heinous: they’re an attack on the very nature of innocence.
They’re also a reminder of how, in the end, we’re all rather helpless against the night that frightens.
In this case the darkness has come in the form of terrorism next door in Kenya where dozens of innocents, including children, were just left dead and littered across the floor of a shopping mall, the sort of place my own children like to go to here in Uganda so they can get a simple candy bar.
Now in one of the stranger stories to come out of the Kenyan massacre, it’s revealed that one terrorist’s struggle was with his own heart as much as anything. While standing in front of a French mother and her two young children – gun in his hand, the power to take their lives with a simple twitch of his finger – he pled for their forgiveness and then offered the children each a Mars bar.
One can only imagine what went through their minds. The mother had already been shot in the thigh, and like anyone would, she told that killer whatever he wanted to hear about any religion, in this case Islam, and their willingness to change their profession of faith to it in exchange for their lives.
And when they said that they would, when, in fact they won’t, that was no more a lie than when a Nazi storm trooper comes to your door and asks you if you’re hiding Jews and you say, no. Because the real lie is in the question itself and in the lie that is the life lived by the one doing the asking.
Whatever went through their minds, the Mars bars were apparently accepted and the mother and her two children, to all appearances, said something that appeased that terrorist and killer who, in that request for forgiveness, somehow knew that his judgement was near.
It’s all enough to make God himself a card-carrying atheist, if not for the fact that God has already told us, indeed has already shown us through the incarnation, through his own time of walking and laughing and, yes, crying with us, that he has nothing to do with the nonsense of religion per se let alone any terrorist’s interpretation of it.
Of course, he spoke of judgement too, and hell — a place never meant for any of us — and there are those who are now stoking hell’s fires so they’re extra hot for the benefit of these terrorists who they hope get dumped there sometime before the weekend.
In the end, though, none us has any say in such hidden matters any more than we’ve had a say in getting born into the night, taking our first breaths in the night, being suckled in the night, for this is the nature of this world that we’ve been placed into, at least in part, even as it has sunrises too.
My own children and I were to go shopping today after school at a mall-complex here in Uganda, the one we always go to on the way home. We won’t go, because now there is an alert that terror will hit Kampala sometime today. We’ll be careful to the extent that’s possible.
But when we do go – if not today, then next week, or next month – security will check us as usual, just like they checked us morning at the gate of the children’s school. Uganda, after all, is not only a next-door neighbour of Kenya, it’s just as involved in Somalia as Kenya is in Somalia.
When we go, my children will ask me for a candy bar, likely a Mars bar, because this is a favourite just as it was for me when I was a kid, and they always ask me for a little treat. I will give them one.
And I’ll think of what unfolded in Kenya with that killer and those two children and their mom. And maybe at the right time, maybe on some drive home, I’ll share that with my children too.