Leader and lout?

Such a paradox is a difficult pill to swallow in a culture whose dominant fantasy peddlers toil endlessly to keep us believing in the dichotomy of good guys and bad guys, and carry on an allegiance to the myth that the good guys always win.

It's kind of like the way we believe in good marriages and bad marriages, good parents and bad parents. I used to believe in those, before I became a wife and a mother. Now, I'm not as clear. I'm more inclined to believe in good days and bad days, and leave it at that.

Not that I think there are no guidelines. Hitting, for example, is a no-brainer: don't do it. It's easy to condemn an action, especially out of context. Harder to judge the human being who engages in that action in real life. Take war. I'm against it. Until I think about Hitler and the Holocaust, and the men who fought in World War II to stop it (yes, I endured the torture of Saving Private Ryan). And suddenly, I'm not so sure.

I bring this all up because I face a complicated dilemma: just as I find myself feasting on questions, my children are starved for answers. Sophie, especially, at the concrete age of eight and a half, wants me to spell it all out once and for all. "Mama," she asks, "you're a Democrat, right?"

"Yes, you could say I'm a Democrat."

"Me, too." She pauses. "Are you a Christian?"

Well, let's see, we've been attending a Christian church a couple of blocks from our house, and we like it a lot. The kids have been happily flourishing in its Sunday School program. Yet, am I a Christian?

"I wouldn't say I'm not a Christian," I venture, in what I know is an unsatisfying answer. "Maybe I'm more of a Unitarian--you know I like the teachings of Buddha, too, and surely Gandhi must have been a saint. But I am a follower of Christ," I say.

She thinks on this, and I resist the urge to go on. I know I have left her empty handed. "Well," she finally says, "I'm a Christian--and a Royalist."

"A Royalist?" I ask. "When did you become a Royalist?"

"Are you a Royalist?" she wants to know.

"No, I am not. Of that one, I'm sure," I say, happy to give a straight answer. But sad that it's not the one she was hoping for.

"Well, Kit is a Royalist," Sophie offers, more hesitant now.

"Kit? Oh, Kit, from your book," I say. Sophie is reading some historical fiction about the very early years in the American Colonies. Of course she identifies with the heroine's political sensibilities. I explain that the book she is reading is set well in advance of the Revolutionary War, and that perhaps if I had lived at that time, I would have been a Royalist, too.

"Really?" she asks. "You think you might have?"

"Maybe. I mean, revolutions are scary--you know how I feel about war. I bet Kit didn't want to see people hurt."

"I bet she didn't."

Let Sophie have her heroine. Let her have her answers, while they last.

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