Some Measure of Innocence

In a piece for the New York Times Magazine, Mark O'Connell writes beautifully about how having children can give you a whole new perspective on the world and its dangers:

Having a child feels like returning some measure of innocence to the world, and this is wonderful in its way; but we are talking here about a world with an exceptionally poor track record in its dealings with innocence. Unforgivably, perhaps, I think of this much more frequently now than I ever did before deciding to bring a child — this particular child — into the world.

Reading this piece, I was reminded of a conversation I had with my best friend from high school not long after my second child was born. My friend did not have kids yet, and wasn't even in a serious relationship, so I was trying to explain to him how it felt, and I remember saying that it's like you've had this clock running your whole life, counting down the days until the next thing happens and then the next thing, the years of school, getting a driver's license, going to college, getting a job, getting married, and so on. And all the while, you're imagining your future.

But when you have a child, suddenly you start a new clock, and you begin to re-experience and re-anticipate all those same experiences. And the worst part of it is that you begin to imagine this new future, not your future but your child's future, and all the precarious possibilities that future could bring that your child doesn't even know about yet, from war to pandemics to global warming.

O'Connell's essay also reminded me of something the writer George Saunders once said in a radio interview (which I've been unable to track down). He was talking about the day one of his children was born, probably his first, and he remembered looking down at this infinitely innocent, infinitely helpless being in his hands and thinking about how all human beings on this planet were once that innocent and that helpless, and maybe if people could remember that, remember the innocence and helplessness we're all born with, the world wouldn't be such a cruel place.