Preppies' hope cuts through the terror of terrorism


Towards the end of last year, a new song began playing each morning on the primary school's PA system. All year songs had been belted out as a way to let straggler parents and kids know the bell to start the day was soon to beep.

Smiling school children break through the spectre of ISIS. Original artwork by Chris JohnstonTo my ear, the new song's chorus was All we need is hope ... I couldn't make out the rest. For two reasons: I was hurrying along with my prep son to make sure he wasn't late, and the lyric put a lump in my throat that I swallowed quickly.

Last year, I was my son's main school-day carer. It was a year of which the second half was dominated by acts of terrorism around the world.

For the first time I properly registered the fact that there were people on the planet who, given the opportunity, would kill the preppie and me because we didn't want the kind of world they wanted. To my mind, that was a war footing.

It wasn't a pleasant reality with which to engage. I started to feel a presence looming over us as I helped the preppie with his homework or reading his story at night. An unnamed threat that would as willingly expunge the preppie from the earth as an army commander.

The whole time I was telling myself that I shouldn't think like this. That I was letting the terrorists win. Well, I'm sorry, but they did have a little victory over me, for a few months.

But it didn't last.

At the height of allowing this looming presence to darken my time with the preppie, the aforementioned hurry-up song came on the PA on our way into school. And all I saw around me was hope.

The schoolyard was filled with chattering preppies, running to their classrooms, eyes shining and faces open. They were yet to absorb the scale of tragedy life on earth could hold. And they had, I trusted, a limited awareness that some people in the world saw even their little existences as a threat.

As I watched those preppies swarm the schoolyard, full of the hope that the song embodied, I was overwhelmed. Their innocence was a force.

Instead of swallowing the lump in my throat, I let it do what it wanted. And, surprisingly, it didn't result in a rush of tears. I felt myself instead made fragile, as fragile and innocent for a moment as all those little kids around me, their lives stretching out ahead of them. Trusting their teachers, their parents and their communities to guide them and protect them. To show them, effectively, the way to live.

The way to live is not to allow a looming and unpredictable threat of death dominate my thinking. Because death, via terrorists, disease, injury, or old age, is always looming.

Even if it is painful and feels sometimes impossible, the way to live is with hope. The very hope with which those little ears were being instilled as they raced off to their days of learning how to spell, count, jump ropes and, as the signs on their classroom doors said, practice random acts of kindness.

I wanted to embrace them all. Instead I simply hugged the preppie at my side.

In a couple of weeks the bell will ring for the start of the 2016 school year. I will bring my grade one boy to the gate and I will hug him again. And my hope? That as he runs off afterwards my touch will have added just a little more to the sum total of hope he can have for the future.


Paul Mitchell headshotPaul Mitchell is a Melbourne writer. His novel We. Are. Family. will be out via MidnightSun Publishing this year.

Original artwork by Chris Johnston

Topic tags: Paul Mitchell, school, ISIS



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Existing comments

Now that is a lovely refreshing bracing essay that lit up the morning. Thank you.
Brian Doyle | 20 January 2016

Thanks Paul for helping me remember how much good there is in the world.
James Grover | 20 January 2016

“All we need is hope.” Hope, of course is vital, but like “love”, which we also need, there are many other things we need. as well. Eternal vigilance is one constituent for achieving peace, but a complete and complex package is needed to give us a best hope of a better future for our children and grandchildren. We (all) need to try to eliminate injustice,(past and present), inequality, ignorance, intolerance, prejudice, fancied privileges, and then, having eliminated the negatives,, build up positive relationships with others. None of these will be easy, but the alternative will be worse. of a better future for our children and grandchildren.
Robert Liddy | 20 January 2016

The word "terrorists" does terrify. Realistically, though, death is always "looming". We have far and away more chance of being killed on the road than by terrorists. All we can be sure about is the moment we are in - the here and now. Paul Mitchell has decided to enjoy the moment with his "preppie" a very sensible and hopeful choice. By the way, I'm giving this advice to myself.
Anna | 20 January 2016


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