Monster Fighters

ImageSo I’m sitting here this morning, listening to Jon and Ella play. Over and over Ella keeps emphasizing to Jon that the figures they are playing with are “monster fighters – they fight monsters so normal people don’t have to.” Anytime that declaration is made, it is quickly followed by a series of “Hi-yah! Bam! Smack! P-sht! Wee-boom!” sounds that illustrate just how thoroughly the monster fighters are kicking monster butt.

And I’m thinking: “I wish I had a monster fighter.”

I mean seriously – who wouldn’t want to have their own private monster fighter. Especially for the monsters that most of us face: doubt, depression, fear, uncertainty, and other creatures from the adult nightmare lagoon. How many of us wouldn’t love to call on someone else to handle the finances when they get tight, or the office when it gets too stressful? Or someone who could appear and deal with the baggage of our past in fell swoop? That would be awesome.

And even as I write this, Jon calls his monster fighter “Daddy” and Ella calls hers “Mommy.” There’s another monster fighter named “David” too, but I’m kind of hung up on Mommy and Daddy being the leads.

Because there are days when I don’t feel like fighting anyone’s monsters. There are days when I wonder if I have requisite power to fight my own. And yet that’s part of how my children see me: as their protector. Now, they have no delusions that I’m some sort of super dad (Jon asked me the other day if I could lift a weight. A weight. Sad.), but they do know that daddy’s the one to run to when you don’t understand something.

Ella does this all the time; if she can’t wrap her mind around an injustice in the world, or a question about theology or God, she comes to me and we begin one of our hourly games of “The Third Degree” – where she mercilessly hammers away at me with questions until I either answer her to her satisfaction or I finally go insane and scream, “I don’t know! I just don’t know!” To me, it can seem like an annoyance (and really, timing is generally the issue), but for her it’s a form of monster fighting: the world seems big and mean and scary, and she wants to know that there is a way to make sense of it all, find peace in the midst of the scariness.

So I help her fight her monsters.

As a father, that’s a pretty cool thing to realize. I’m not big and brawny and “manly-man” so the notion that my daughter still finds value in me – in a big old nerdy nerd – is even better than a Father’s Day card. In fact, instead of cards yesterday, I got a day full of hugs, thank yous, and “You’re the best dad, ever!”s. I also got approximately 100,000,000 questions between Ella and Jon, but those just laid the groundwork for the hugs, thank yous, and best-dad-evers.

It was a glorious day.

Who are the monster fighters in your life? To whom do you turn when the situation gets scary and you need consolation? We may not have our own private Indiana Jones or Superman at the ready to battle the evil we encounter, but we probably have more resources than we know.

So who’s helping you fight today?

Small Sorrows

That nick on your dining room table. The way your carpet bunches near the corner. Over there, next to your cookbooks? Yeah, that’s a crack in the counter top that seems to get wider every day.

Your car wheezes to life instead of roaring. Every time the weather changes, you or your kids get sick – sometimes all of you. A piece of siding wants to fall off your house and crush your azaleas, which probably deserve to be crushed given how sad they look.

A hangnail.

More gray hair.

Some stain on your favorite jeans that refuses to go away.

These are the small sorrows of life. Read separately and they are perceived as small; taken together, they become sorrows. It’s a strange phenomena, but one that you’re likely very familiar with. Chances are, you’ve been noticing the pile up, kind of like dishes in your sink or the insurmountable load of laundry you just can’t make yourself wash.

They’re a lot like toy cars, these wretched, tiny sorrows, in that one or two on the kitchen table doesn’t bother you. And if your son is like mine, then you also know that the next time you turn around every single freaking one of them will be on display, covering the table and clattering to the floor because there’s simply not enough room for them all.

Another way of describing it is drowning. Single drops of water are no threat, but when you toss a bunch of them in a pool, pretty soon you’re in over your head, struggling to stay afloat, wondering if someone – anyone – will come to your aid. Occasionally, there’ll be a lifeguard. Often, you’re on your own.

Sink or swim.

On the bad days, sinking seems the better option. What could be simpler than to just give in to the sorrow, let it overwhelm you, and hope that the “experts” are right and that drowning really is the most peaceful way to die? So you quit kicking. You quit struggling. You take a last breath and allow the water and darkness and sorrow to wash over you.

Only to discover that you still float.

Now you have to make a choice: take another breath, or let this one completely go? Keep floating or sink? Only a few sink; most take another breath, gulp another lungful of oxygen and hope. And even the ones that sink get only so far – usually, that survival instinct kicks the legs into gear and suddenly, there they are, breaking through the top of the water like Daryl Hannah in Splash.

And now they have to choose again: swim, float or exhale?

Personally, I’ve done all three, and quite often end up doing some sort of combo maneuver. Today, for example, was a swim-float-swim-punch-yourself-in-the-face kind of day. I was tempted to quit. I was tempted to exhale. But there was something in me that wouldn’t allow it. A sudden realization from my faith; I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say, I was confronted again with a particularly powerful and woefully under-examined (at least in my neck of the woods) truth about God, and I came out the better for it.

I decided that swimming was the choice because only swimming brings you closer to the side of the pool of sorrows. Only swimming gives you the opportunity to actually emerge completely from the water and find dry land. Everything else leaves you in the midst of your sorrows; it gives them power, more power than they deserve.

So your kid got sick after you took her to the doctor for a preventative visit. So she spiked a fever, went pale, slept like a college graduate and threw up all over herself. Small sorrows, my friend. Small sorrows.

Keep swimming, and they’ll be behind you soon enough.