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The Perils of Staying Safe

As I write this, I have two boys outside pretending to repair a tree. For those who do not know boy-speak, to repair a tree is simply an excuse to hook a rope on a branch and pully the younger boy upward as high as can be attained. The older son informs me all is well — “the rope is our safety harness!” he has reasoned.

Recently, these same boys built a mousetrap. It consisted of a nail sticking through a board, and it was placed on one of the steps of our main staircase. “If a mouse is going down the stairs he will fall into the nail!” I was happily told. Kids these days… I don’t recall having “the talk” — about tetanus — until I was much older. For the record, we don’t have mice. Or tetanus.

And then there is the digging. Endless digging. They tell me their friends dug a hole twelve feet deep. I imagine they are still down in the hole. As a compromise, I presented my boys with a tattered Bible that needed a respectful burial. I may as well have declared it Christmas morning. “How big should the hole be? Four feet deep? Six?” I’m sure they had it all figured out. Dig a deep hole, place a bible and a mousetrap inside, and then pully themselves out with a rope and wait. Truly, “a boy’s will is the wind’s will,” as explains the American poet Longfellow, “and the thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.” More accurately, they are deep, deep thoughts.

You do not shut boys down when they are climbing a tree, inventing a trap, or digging a hole. You simply instill some safety measures so they are actually not deathly harmful. Then, onward. “But is it really safe?” one might ask. Well, yes, of course. And no, of course not. Childhood is wrought with endless life-animating dangers. Or at least it should be. A boy not raised on videogames cannot help but seek adventure, at times without a thought to the laws of physics — what goes up must come down. But he learns. Risk, adventure, grace, and hard work are what will make him a man someday. A calculated tidbit of danger in youth will be far safer in time than removing such a little adventurer to a couch, handing him a screen to stare at, and telling him to “stay safe.”

“Stay safe.” This is what the secular world has requested, or rather commanded, with egregious fines, all adventurous youths to do right now. Not just youths, but everyone. My work email inbox is full of such admonitions. Any YouTube video begins with a celebrity telling us to “stay safe and stop the spread of COVID-19.” Even my favorite sports podcast has apparently replaced the daily sport scores with the “stay safe” mantra.

What does “stay safe” mean? To stay “safe” is a loaded term. Safe sex is anything but, if one considers the emotional trauma and spiritual suicide it imparts to the participants. Meanwhile, safe spaces are but cages for stunted university students to declare themselves incapable of a meaningful human life. Rather, to “stay safe” — heartfelt sentimentality aside — means to stay at home and not go out. It is to say, “Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled” (James 2:16), while disregarding the bodily and spiritual needs of those who hear these words. It is tone-deaf, and ultimately about control, for weakened people become needy, needy people reliant. It is altogether perilous.

What shall we make of this? Continue in the absurdity? To the small business–owner of 30 years, forced into financial ruin while mega-corporations flourish: stay safe. To the mom who tearfully shares how her usually joyous child, a student of mine, is undergoing depression and anxiety, and that they are at their breaking point: stay safe. To the man with an addiction to pornography, who cannot fight its ominous presence caused by endless isolation: stay safe. To the couples contemplating a stress-induced divorce, and subsequently a lifetime of devastation for their children: stay safe. To all the faithful struggling as they are unable to adore Christ in the Eucharist, or receive His forgiveness in confession, while bishops say there is nothing that can be done: stay safe. To every young boy longing for excitement and adventure: stay safe — preferably with the doors locked and videogames active.

Countless examples exist, all speaking the same reality: to “stay safe” at home causes inordinate harm. Now, I do not say simply ignore all precautions and prudence and act as though people are not getting sick from COVID-19. That would be deceitful. What I am saying is that we must heed the words of Christ: “fear ye not them that kill the body, and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28). Prudent forays into common life — a walk on a public trail, a visit with a close friend and, most especially, a judiciously heard Mass — these, in their own way, nourish the soul. And it is the soul we are to protect in safety, first and foremost, without fear.

I return one last time to my boys playing outside. They have since come to show me a remarkable discovery. After digging in the backyard, they have excavated an actual rusty Corona beer bottlecap. “We’ve got Corona!” they shout gleefully. It seems danger and adventure are inseparable for them. My oldest son will put the bottlecap in his collection box, next to some nails, special rocks, old coins, and shells — a boy’s treasure, demonstrating a life lived, dangers and all.

But not all is well. This same son has been waiting indefinitely to receive confirmation and first Holy Communion. He has even been denied the sacrament of confession — a father’s greatest fear, demonstrating a soul under attack, “safety” and all.

I can only end simply by saying this: may you all stay safe, dear readers — most especially from the safeties which imperil us.

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