Saturday, April 23, 2011

Black ships before boys

Andrew began reading Black Ships Before Troy to Little Guy last night. It's Rosemary Sutcliff's re-telling of the Iliad, and Rosemary Sutcliff is wonderful. But it was Good Friday, and I half-wondered if this was the most appropriate thing to read.

This is the out-of-print edition we have. It has great illustrations

The story begins with Aphrodite promising Paris a wife as fair as she is, if only he tosses the golden apple to her instead of to Athene or Hera. Then Paris neglects Oenone, and sails to the palace of King Menelaus to see fair Helen.

As Andrew read of how Paris and Helen exchanged glances at each other, and walked together in the cool olive gardens, Little Guy began to look uneasy. He glanced at me, and then back at the book. And in his eyes I could see that he knew trouble was coming. And he didn't like it.

I was sitting nearby and said something like, "Don't worry, no one is sitting at my feet whispering sweet nothings as I spin my violet wool when Daddy is out hunting."

And my littlest one smiled, but I could see the shadow in his eyes. Do people really DO things like that? Why?

You don't have to tell a seven year old that stealing someone else's wife is wrong. Kids are the pool through which adult failures-to-behave ripple. They know. They see clearly what we, after watching so many shows where betrayal or greed or self-centeredness are mere plot elements, gloss over: real people get hurt.

Seeing the bewilderment wash over my child's face was a reminder: we can't allow ourselves to become inured to stories about desire so strong it launches a thousand ships. We should ponder those stories, shudder at them, consider what it means to give in to our ambitions, cravings, covetousness, snarkiness and other urges. We can acknowledge that lots of human beings do outrageously cruddy things without concluding it's not so bad if I act like that.

Yeah, it is that bad. Sorry.

And as I thought about this, and snuggled my boy as he went to sleep, I realized that Black Ships Before Troy wasn't such a bad book to read on Good Friday. For understanding how our sins play out in the lives of others is a first step toward understanding how Jesus got on that cross.

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