The day Siena Kaya was born, the first thing I did was lie to her face.
As the nurse put the tiny bundle in my arms, I looked into my daughter’s still blind and bruised eyes and, overcome with emotion, I told her, “I’ll never let anything happen to you.” For the first time, I felt the honor of being in the presence of true innocence and I vowed to protect it like Superman. My immediate reaction to her immaculate purity was a bald-faced, if ambitious, lie.
At that moment, reality gently tapped me on the shoulder and I was brought to tears.
Almost instantly, you realize how empty such promises are. Bang-ups, burns and busted lips are inevitable. They come without warning and without provocation. Heartache, deceit and loss come soon after. It’s only when you come to grips with the unfairness of it all (What did my little girl ever do to deserve this?) that you can accept the fact that, no, we cannot protect our children from all of the ugly tragedies in life. Reality digs in deeper each day; all you can do is fight like hell.
Parenting small children, at its most fundamental, comes down to getting them through today and into tomorrow. Every so often, you stop to watch in amazement as they learn to manage the world on their own. But you spend most of your time balancing inequities, righting the wrongs, and often narrowly skirting catastrophe. Fighting reality. Even when your adversary seems to be the child herself, the most powerful weapon in your arsenal is unconditional love, exempt from justification.
Sometimes even a love that profound is not enough.
I met Susan in another lifetime. A gringo living on the Chilean coast, I was struggling to drop out of school and cobble a life together working with the local fishermen, playing guitar and teaching art. (Perhaps my war with Reality had already begun.) My good friend, Yuri, took me into his home. Like so many Chilean families, Yuri’s had been devastated by the brutal regime of Augusto Pinochet. Despite this, I remember that house in Villa Alemana as one filled with generosity and warmth: home-cooked meals, dogs spoiled rotten, guitars, wine, and song. This was also Susan’s family. And we all knew Susan was the best guitarist and singer of the lot.
Over time, Susan and I grew close. In addition to teaching me a thing or two about music, she gave me a deeper understanding of fairness, and unfairness, in the world. Today, a lifetime later, we have created new families. Susan got married and had two children. A boy and a girl. I did the same.
I never had the pleasure of meeting Susan’s daughter, Rayün, although I know spending time with her must have been a joyful, intense experience. Tragically, Rayün was struck by a car on Friday and soon after, her little body succumbed to the injuries. She would have been five years old this week. Of course, she did nothing to deserve this fate. Susan’s family doesn’t deserve it. Reality simply won over innocence, and there will be no tomorrow for Rayün.
When my own 4 year-old daughter came home from preschool yesterday, I rushed out and held her so tightly that I think I scared her. I didn’t mean to. I didn’t mean to show her the pain I felt. I didn’t want tell her how much worse the world had become for the loss of Rayün. Not yet. I just wanted her to believe that, for now, Superman is right here.
If you believe in God — and in all honesty, it’s times like these when I find that notion very difficult — please pray for Susan, her husband David, and their little boy Newen, age 8.
More importantly, please do this for Susan and her family: Go hug your children. Go hold those children as tight as you can — scare them if you have to — and you lie to their faces and you tell them that you will never let anything happen to them. They are innocent in ways that you and I have long since forgotten. You protect them with everything you’ve got, and play guitars and sing with them, and celebrate their innocence. You fight like hell.
And as our friend Rodolfo said, recalling Susan’s loving and musical family, “we will continue singing, both to celebrate our joy and to calm our pain.”
Coraje y fuerza, Susan, David y Newen. Y que descanse en paz con los angelitos, Rayün.