Posted by: ritagone | July 18, 2012

“Nothing’s Gonna Harm You”

When my first grandchild, Meg, was born, some 11 years ago, I used to hold her in my arms as an infant and sing to her the lyrics to Stephen Sondheim’s song from “Into the Woods,” “Not While I’m Around.”  “Nothing’s gonna harm you, not while I’m around, nothing’s gonna harm you, no sir, not while I’m around.”  Like all parents and grandparents, I envisioned that my role was to make sure nothing bad ever came her way.  That song epitomized all the evil I personally was going to chase away from her life.

Three broken bones later, the other day I stared at her while someone was signing her pink cast.  She’s broken her right arm once and her left twice.  While it’s not an exorbitant number of fractures and certainly not going down in the annals of injury history for a child’s first eleven years, it did make me stop and think for a minute: I haven’t done a first-rate job of protecting her.

In the first place, I haven’t been with her any of the three times she has fallen or tripped or had a misstep that has led to Urgent Care and a cast.  After all, how can you be with anyone all of the time?  It’s just not possible.  So the lyrics of the song – “nothing’s gonna harm you, not while I’m around” – are instantly a shambles, because a lot can happen when you’re not around.

Despite the beauty and touching quality of many song lyrics, I can’t imagine there’s no heaven, nor no hell.  The Bible tells me that both of these places are real, and much as I’d like to believe John Lennon’s poetic lyrics, I can’t.  So while I’d like to believe also that nothing is going to harm my grandchildren while I’m around, I’ve proven it to be untrue many times over.  Singing that song just doesn’t make it so.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could protect the people we love by singing a song over them, by uttering a prayer or chanting something intense and meaningful?  I know that prayer does at times cover people with protection, but only if God’s plan includes that protection, and we never know when that is so.  Instead, life is arbitrary, and you can turn around and in a micro-second change your life or the life of someone you love by a false move, a word, a careless deed that poured out of you without thought or motive but did damage nevertheless.

And we hate this, because we want to control not only the environment around us but what happens to the people in that environment, including ourselves and our loved ones.  And especially the children.  I sometimes look at my four grandchildren as they play (especially with one another when that is going well – not so much when they are arguing and scraping and the image dissolves into bitterness and nastiness) and wonder what the future holds for them: what heartbreak, what sorrow, along with the joy and challenges that will confront them as they face life.  What unknown monsters and demons lurk that will disturb the peace and tranquility of not only their lives but mine as I watch them, until I am gone from their lives?  Or, God forbid, one of them is gone from mine first (the unthinkable)?

“Nothing’s gonna harm you, not while I’m around.”  The truth is, only God can make this claim.  Sorry, Stephen, while it sounds beautiful sung to lilting music, and while it made me weep with tears of joy as I held Meg in my arms – that first flush of being a grandparent where you realized that your gene pool was mysteriously and gloriously pushed into yet another generation, for good or bad, it’s just not true.  A lot is going to harm her.  And I’m going to have to stand by helpless to do anything but pray for her and hug her when it does and hope that she recovers and moves on in a well-balanced and healthy way.

I love my granddaughters and my grandson.  I love my two children and my husband.  I love my friends.

But the only protection I can offer them is the fervent desire that they reach out for the protection that only God can give them.

And for that, I will pray earnestly every day.


  1. Beautifully written!!

  2. Rita,
    This is a lovely piece and so true. At any moment our lives can change forever.

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