My son Hugo is four. He surprised me by his awareness and curiosity about death last fall. He seems pretty perceptive for a little guy, and sensitive – at least as far as how death would immediately affect him. I was moved by his considerable fear when he hasn’t had much firsthand experience with loss. I’m still figuring out how to talk religion and philosophy with him, and I feel like I’m a little late on some things. So I broached the subject of Easter this week.
Missed the God boat?
My background is Catholic and I’m raising the boys Christian, with my own perspective of advaita (philosophy of unity) mixed in. I hadn’t talked to Hugo about God much yet. We say grace before dinner, and he likes to say the words himself, though sometimes it’s phonetic instead of the actual “Thank you, Lord, for these thy gifts…”. Hugo is never still, so it’s hard to explain that he needs to feel the quiet and love in his heart to experience God and get an idea of who he really is.
Last month we were in the car together and Hugo said something about God. He surprised me by talking about Jesus around Christmastime. I think he and his friends discussed Him at school. I know there’s no official religious discussion there involving adults. But now he said, “God is a man.”
“No, Hugo. God isn’t a person. He lives in your heart” I began (while driving!).
“I’m not God, Mommy! We aren’t gods. God is a man, with legs and feet!” he told me as if I were particularly dense.
I’m not against any religious metaphors from any tradition that help people feel closer to truth. My feeling is that all the stories are true, and there’s a lot more to reality than what you can see and hear. But it looks like my son has gotten a head start in his ideology, from his preschool friends? Did I already miss the boat in helping to shape my son’s beliefs?
I love the pomp of Christian holidays. I love that they appropriated the most fun parts of the pagan holidays that have been around a lot longer. It just feels inclusive to me, that these are universal celebrations, for everybody. Since Hugo knows who Jesus is, I gave him a quick rundown on Easter. He brought up bunnies and eggs when I asked him what Easter was about. I told him that Jesus died and on Easter came back to life, because he is God (so He can). I didn’t mention anything about sacrifice or sins.
I brought it up again at home yesterday. Emphasizing that Jesus came back to life as He was, not reborn like a baby like we all are. Spring and eggs and bunnies are all examples of how everything comes back to life after death. Hugo denied this. “You know, Hugo, like how everything dies in the winter,” I said.
“No,” he answered.
“How the trees all lose their leaves and everything turns grey” I tried again.
“Nothing turns grey. Nothing dies,” he doubled down. My husband was shaking his head at me. I started feeling silly. It reminded me suddenly of when I was really little and watching Puff the Magic Dragon had made me cry. “Dragons are forever, Hugo! But little boys aren’t! So he slinked away into his cave.”
I played the song on my laptop, without the cartoon that struck me so poignantly very early in life. I assumed Hugo was not listening to it.
“Puff was sad because the little boy went into the water and died!” Hugo cried. Oh, he was listening. “Going into the water” is Hugo’s metaphor for death. It’s not as grim as it sounds. I told him that we would hope instead that the little boy grew up and moved away and lost interest in playing with the dragon. But he got the point.
Maybe we’ll watch the cartoon on Easter.