by Ricardo da Silva SJ

“DADDY!” His deafening cry pierced the still of the night. Half-dressed, I bolted in search of him and flipped the light switch, almost as he leapt into my arms. He gripped my neck tightly and his soft skin quivered against mine. With continuing breathless screams: “We need to get out, he’s coming for us.” Panic and dread were plastered on his tear-soaked face.

I held him tightly. The shaking ceased. The screams grew softer. Slowly, I pulled his body from mine and sat side by side with him on the bed. “What’s the matter, my boy?” “Daddy, we need to get away, he’s coming for us.” “Who’s coming for us?” “The monster daddy, he’s under the bed, he’s coming for us.”

Propped upright against his knees, firmly holding his little hand with our eyes at the same level, I looked into his eyes and stretched my lips to offer a gentle smile. “It’s okay, you’re safe, nobody’s coming for us. Daddy’s here now.”

This is surely a familiar scene, even for those of us who have never raised a child. The cries of a child rudely rousing us from our slumber after a hard day’s work leave us uncomfortable.

This was the story related by one of the co-presenters at a workshop I delivered. He told the story in relation to fear and how we might help others to respond to their fears. It got me thinking.

I recently worked with young people. What happened there also got me thinking. How do we respond to their fears at this turbulent time in our country — and as they approach the dreaded end-of-year-exams?

After some ice-breakers, we gathered in a circle and I asked a question. “Where do you find yourself?” The customary discomforting pause ensued. Then one person broke the silence telling of the suicide of a friend.

Slowly the trust grew among us. They began to feel safer and spoke about their fears, unprompted, one after the other. I was humbled by the moment. Filled with sadness and a certain dread, I pondered the lives of these young people. Thoughts swirled around in my head. I fought back tears and a desire to scream “STOP, why is this happening!” I even found time to send a few prayers upwards.

After nearly two hours of conversation I spoke. “It’s okay. It’s okay to feel sad, to feel that everything is crashing around you. It’s even okay to feel suicidal. The problem is we’re too used to judging ourselves for feeling one way or the other. We are never told it’s normal. Life can be tough.”

The fear of the idea of suicide, of failing the year or of breaking someone’s heart can paralyse us and lead us to despair.

It is clear to me that young people need more opportunities to speak out, to have a voice and to feel safe. They need to be heard.

Perhaps, it is no coincidence that the abiding advice given to bishops by Pope Francis at the Synod of Bishops on Young People was: listen to what young people have to say, they are crying out to be heard!

Photo credit: Pixabay, Cuvelier-FotoArt