Is This Gonna Be Dangerous?

The most common concern we hear about the journey we’re starting is, “isn’t the foreign service going to be so dangerous? Especially for the kids?”

A few days ago, there was a school shooting in Texas. As we’ve discussed this tragedy with our friends who have kiddos, several of them expressed the opposite feeling – that maybe our family is doing the right thing leaving the country… as in, our kids might actually be safer somewhere else.

The grief, and fear, and frustration are deep. As a medical provider, I reach for the data, which is harrowing:

From Current Causes of Death in Children and Adolescents in the United States, New England Journal of Medicine, May 19, 2022 – notably, 5 days before the Robb Elementary shooting. Chart links to article.

All moms and dads want to protect their kids. How do Jen and I square that with our decision to move our family to poor and hard to reach nations? Are we safer here, or wherever we’re going? Are we jumping from the frying pan to the fire?

We want our kids to be happy.

We want our kids to be safe.

But sometimes, those two priorities are at odds:

  • Some things that increase happiness make them less safe (ice cream and pizza, driving, sunbathing, pool parties).
  • Some things that increase safety make them less happy (flu shots, school lock down drills, N-95 masks, greasy sunscreen).

As parents, we work to make our kiddo’s world as safe as we can. But it will never be safe, so we must help them grow into people who can live a joyful life while navigating the dangers.

It breaks our hearts to rip away little pieces of the wonder of childhood, and replace that magic with fear, caution, and suspicion. Yet it must be done! Isn’t that just the worst? How can I explain to my 2nd grader why her school just tightened their security protocols again, without making her afraid of school – afraid of life? But if Jen and I don’t gently guide our kiddos into the deep waters, then the currents of the world will tumble them into deep waters roughly, before they know how to swim.

The work of the mature person is to carry grief in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give. If I carry only grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair. If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering. Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft, which helps make compassion possible.

Francis weller The Geography Of Sorrow | By Tim McKee | Issue 478 | The Sun Magazine (well worth your time to reaD!)

Teaching our little angels to balance sorrow and gratitude, journey and risk – it starts with our example. There are dangers to our family here in Portland. There will be different dangers overseas. When we weigh the risks and rewards, we think that this is the right way to go. It will be wild… and worthwhile.

Getting down to brass tacks, the Foreign Service divides posts into 3 types:

  1. Regular ol’ assignments
  2. Hardship posts
  3. Danger posts

And they need people at all of those. We didn’t agree to this only if they send us to Paris, Sydney, and Helsinki. We agreed to “worldwide availability,” and were warned repeatedly that our first 2 posts would (likely) be hardship posts. Fortunately, it’s extremely unlikely I will do a danger post – the sort of assignment where my family couldn’t accompany me. While there’s a theoretical possibility of such an assignment, we have been assured that for my specialty, Med, assignments to danger posts have always been filled by volunteers (and our heartfelt thanks goes to all of them!)

To help us be ready for anything, the Jen and I will take a Counter Threat course as part of our upcoming orientation. The syllabus is alarming!

The US Embassy compounds have the best security in the world, maintained by dedicated security agents. There is a plan already in place for every eventuality, including to evacuate all families and staff except for “essential personnel,” in case of natural disasters, epidemics, terrorism, political unrest, and so on. I’ll be essential personnel – it’s likely that in many posts, I’ll be the only American medical provider for hundreds of miles! – so there will always be a chance that my family is evacuated, and I stay behind. The United States is the strongest nation that has ever been, and the State Department takes care of its people.

And if there still is some danger for us, after all that can be done is done? Perhaps that’s all the more reason to go! The work that the FS does makes the world more peaceful, which makes home more peaceful for our children’s children. The scary things in the world can be overcome by loving families.

Love is cuddling up together in the refuge of our home, wherever in the world that is. Love is exploring and adventuring together. Love is work. As the songwriter Henry Jamison says, sometimes its demon-killing work. What a joy to work together on increasing the love and peace in the world, in the face of whatever risks the future holds.