At 5 years old, I would have thought my daughter’s biggest concerns were about what I was going to pack her for lunch or finding super rare Shopkins, those evil creatures designed by a diabolical monster bent on destroying parents’ lives. But the other day she shocked me when she asked:
“Mom, I just don’t understand why am I here? Why was I made? Why I am in this world?”
And aside from being mildly freaked out that she referenced “this” world (What other worlds are there?! What does she know that I don’t? Do I need to watch the latest Star Wars to understand?), her words shook me to my core. And lately, she is so freaked out about her mini existential crisis that she can’t even sleep at night. It’s heartbreaking to watch, and yet at the same time, I feel exactly the same way, because let’s face it, life is hard and scary and I’m not ashamed to admit that when I can’t sleep at night (just say the word “eternity” to yourself for an hour straight and watch how freaked out you can make yourself!), I rest my head on my husband’s chest and take comfort in the small fact that he’s there. But at 5 years old? How can I even begin to give her any sort of comfort about a big and scary world?
I admit that when my daughter first posed this question, asked so innocently one night after showers, when she had that fresh clean hair look and her favorite princess pajamas on, I froze.
Is she really asking me this? I thought. Five-year-olds aren’t supposed to ponder the meaning of life!
Except she was, and she does. Largely, in part, because I suspect she is a lot like me, a type who overthinks and overanalyzes everything. I can remember being a child and waking up in the middle of the night in a panic, my heart racing out of my chest as I pondered the great mystery of eternity and eventually concluded, much to my dismay, that living forever and forever actually sounded terrible and scary as all get-out. I would sneak out of my room and pad down the hall to my parents’ room, where my dad wouldn’t wake up even had I bellowed his beloved trumpet into his ear and my mom would hush me and tell me to go back to bed, her voice raspy and half-awake.
My mind flitted back to those memories of being that scared little child, how desperately I just wanted to be swept up in a hug and told it would be OK, that the world isn’t a scary place after all. I was overcome with a rush for my baby, my sweet and sensitive little girl, who barely halfway through her first year of school, is already plagued with the biggest test of her life.
Why are we here? What is the point?
I wish I could tell you that I knew exactly what to tell my daughter, but the truth is, that scared little girl I remember from my childhood has turned into a woman and a mother who still doesn’t have the answers, and now I’m parenting a child so much like me. That little girl grew up into a college student, clinging to prayer booklets and rosary beads like they held the answer, sure of following a prescribed path to heaven like it was as easy as following a recipe in a cookbook. (Never mind the fact that she can’t cook worth a crap and once forgot to put chicken in a chicken pot pie.) That little girl grew up into a woman who finds herself at a crossroads of belief and disbelief, who wants so much to see the good in the world, and wishes so badly that it could just be as easy as mindless faith, and clings desperately to hope like a fraying rope in a sea of doubt.
But I didn’t know what to tell her, and as my mouth dropped open and my mind cast around for the answers, I told her the only thing I could think of, the only thing I felt was safe and true and might resonate with her little mind in the dark recesses of the nighttime, when she has taken to awakening in fear, like someone I knew so long ago.
I told her that she is here because we needed to love her.
That she is here because the world needed someone like her to love.
That she is here to love us and her sisters and her brother, even when he has stinky feet (that got a giggle).
That she is here to love cookies and hot chocolate and Christmas and the water park hotel and going on trips with me and her grandma’s house and her cousins.
I told her that the point of it all is pretty simple: to love and to be loved. Because what else could I say? I wish I knew all the answers—I can’t tell you how badly I wish I knew the answers, both for myself and for her.
But still, I think that even in murky middle of doubt and belief and hope and existence, that love is always the answer.
At least I really hope it is, because frankly, it’s all I’ve got.