Celebrating the magic of a birthday, even as the world mourns

Friday, 06 October 2017, 02:56:49 PM. I don’t want to freight my child’s 12th birthday with the weight of the world, but it feels wrong to tune it out.

My daughter turned 12 Thursday, which is magical and mundane.

Some 360,000 babies are born each day around the world. Mine barely made a blip, globally speaking, when she arrived.

But my heart sprang to life that day, and there’s magic in loving another human this much.

I’m aware, this week more than most, how much magic.

I don’t want to freight my child’s 12th birthday with the weight of the world. It should be cake and rollerskating and laughing. And it will be.

But people are aching all around us. The Las Vegas gunman ended dozens of lives and destroyed hundreds of others. Puerto Rico is in desperate ruins. My own city grapples with gun violence hourly, even as we learn that to unleash his mayhem here.

It’s impossible to tune that out. It would be irresponsible even if I could. A lovely reader named Ruth emailed me earlier this week and said, “Empathy isn’t a switch you turn on or off.”

So my heart feels divided.

I read this week in Motherwell magazine that maintains post-millennial kids (those born after 2000) are overwhelmingly kind and inclusive.

“These guys,” Mary Janevic writes, “more than their predecessors, seek to do no harm: from the feelings of the new kid at school to the environment.”

They’re less likely, in her experience, to pick on a kid for wearing glasses, having an uncommon name or losing a game.

“We are bringing up children who don’t need to pick on superficialities in others to feel good about themselves,” she writes.

My first reaction was, God, I hope that’s true.

My second was, God, I hope we’re worthy.

The world doesn’t feel overwhelmingly kind or inclusive right now. It just feels overwhelming.

But the kindness is there, even in the middle of chaos. We read stories about people rushing to help one another in Las Vegas, shielding loved ones’ bodies, driving strangers to the hospital. We see footage of the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, wading through waist-deep floodwaters searching for survivors.

The cruelty is loud right now. But kindness hasn’t gone anywhere.

Maybe we can find ways to amplify it. Maybe we can set out, daily, to make the world more worthy of the kind, inclusive kids who will inherit it. Maybe we can celebrate our loved ones by alleviating someone’s suffering, rather than averting our gaze.

I meet people every week who live by this model. and his 3,000 blessing bags. and his pies for Puerto Rico. and their hospital parking passes. and her books for juveniles.

The cruelty is loud right now. But their kindness is louder — as long as we remember to listen for it. And, more important, add to it.

My daughter will make a wish when she blows out her 12 candles. It can probably be granted at Sephora.

Mine is more complicated. I want a better, safer world for her. I owe her my best efforts, on her birthday and beyond.

hstevens@chicagotribune.com

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