The concept of “inverse” is central to Algebra. It might be used when describing adding a negative number to a positive one to clear out a simple algebraic equation, or might show up as a topic in Abstract (or Modern) Algebra. Recall that when talking about addition, the inverse operation is subtraction, while division is the inverse of multiplication. I thought of this concept recently as I recalled the horrors of ten years ago and realized that my daughter’s life and her sparkling eyes and big smile functioned in my life as an inverse to the evil that we encountered that very frightening day.
Like most parents, I have vivid memories of my daughter as a baby. I recall dancing around the living room with her in my arms, blasting “Ode to Joy” on the stereo as she looked up at me with a curious face, wondering what I was up to. I remember her trying to roll over at the ridiculously young age of two months, and my parents cheering her on as she struggled to do so. I remember how she crunched up her nose when she laughed, and how she would put her tiny hands over her mouth when she giggled, as if she was embarrassed to laugh and wanted to hide it from onlookers. But my most vivid memories of her as a baby are of her, dressed in a ruffled “onezie”, hanging out in her crib.
I remember her giggling and flailing her tiny arms and legs as she lay in her crib and talked (in her own language) to the stuffed lion cubs that hung on a mobile over her head. She would laugh and kick and bang her arms in the air, as if she could hear them talking back to her, and was delighted at what they had to say. The scene was pure innocence, and I remember saying once, upon observing it, that I wanted to make sure that nothing bad ever happened to her.
Alas, I could not prevent that for long, for she eventually learned how to walk and soon after that how to climb, and eventually acquired the usual bruises and scrapes that come with childhood. Still, there are many realities of life that she has been essentially sheltered from.
The 10th anniversary of September 11th, 2001, which we commemorate this weekend, will most likely be the first time she will be really aware of what happened on that day. I therefore realize that I will most likely need to explain it more fully to her. Along the same line of thought, I realize that I still need to explain to her the details of other things, such as slavery, racism and The Holocaust, that she currently knows of in only broad brush strokes, devoid of the very human stories that make them such tragedies. And so I want to ask my fellow parents for advice on how to do that. How do you talk to these beautiful children about such incredible evils in the world, when even cell in your body wants to protect them from such things?
As much as I would love to protect my daughter from knowledge of evil, I also know that it is she and her contemporaries who offer us all hope that a better world can be created. They must know the details of what happened, for it is said that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Perhaps the generation of children we are now raising will grow up to offer the world solutions to such problems that previous generations of citizens have not yet been able to imagine. Perhaps they can finally bring peace to this wounded world.
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Anthropology Open Rank (Assistant, Associate, or Professor) of Anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts