The family was heading out late last week for our semi-annual joint haircut at Cabello's, having let our manes get quite shaggy. We scheduled the visit on the day I didn't teach, which corresponded with the day that Xan was not in school due to a day of parent-teacher conferences. Ange had to teach, however, and so just before the appointed time, we were parked relatively close to her classroom to wait. We were listening to a mix-CD (is that what you call the slightly more modern version of a "mix tape," before we get to playlists?) made by a friend as a party favor for his three-year-old's birthday party earlier this year. Since this CD features Elmo, Xan was in a particularly good mood.
And then, seemingly out of nowhere, a quiet voice from the back seat of the car said, "Dada, when someone kills, that means someone dies, right?"
I was a bit shaken by this, but the word "kill" has come up a few times before. I think one of the kids at his school had talked about "killing" things, perhaps because he has a video game or something and I had dissuaded Xan from blithely using the word, trying to indicate the serious finality of killing. He also understands the concept of death, somewhat, mainly because his great-grandfather died only a year ago. So I said, "Yes, that's what that means."
There was a pause.
And then: "Dada, when will I die?"
In the rear view mirror, I could see the earnest expression on his face. At that point, I had to figure out how to hold it together. I was not preapred for this at all, nor the way that such a question would put me near tears. Quite frankly, I don't think about this possibility at all because, deep inside, I know this would crush me in ways I really can't imagine. (This, even though we upped our life insurance the other day. My own potential death? Apparently, I can handle that.)
I replied, "Oh, sweetie. I have no idea when you will die. Hopefully, not for a very, very long time."
He pondered that. "When do people die?" he continued.
"We don't know," I said. "No one ever knows when they're going to die. That's why we have to do the best we can while we're still here."
He seemed to accept this, and I gave him a squeeze. I did think, however, What on earth inspired him to ask that question?
On the way home from the haircut, the CD had started over again and I realized that one of the songs we had heard in the morning was Dolly Parton's version of the Byrds' "Turn, Turn, Turn." I absolutely love this song in virtually any form (part of my amusement comes from the fact that this is probably the only #1 pop song to be inspired by the Book of Ecclesiastes), but of course the song posits a series of opposites. In fact, as I thought about it, I realized that a few days earlier we heard the song and Xan, having processed the concept "kill = bad," had said, "Dada, they said 'kill.' That's bad." I had explained what the song was trying to do, and that we needed the bad things in life in order to appreciate the good. Somehow, however, I hadn't thought about him processing the concept of death as it might apply to himself.
All this simply means that I better take my copy of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer" out of the car.