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Every time I see this image from NASA that has been floating around the internet this week, I am reminded of a verse from “How Long,” a song by Jackson Browne.*

If you saw it from a satellite

With its green and its blue and white

The beauty of the curve of the earth

And its oceans below

You might think it was paradise

If you didn’t know

You might think that it’s turning

But it’s turning so slow

You might think it was paradise. If you didn’t know…. This beautiful orb is as close to paradise as any of us will ever get.

The song came out in 1989, when one son was in nursery school and the other was finishing kindergarten. At ages three and six, they were just stepping onto the path leading them toward the men they would become. The song’s opening verse resonates as powerfully for me now as it did back then.

When you look into a child’s face

And you’re seeing the human race

The endless possibilities there

Where so much can come true

And you think of the beautiful things

A child can do

Our boys lived in a protective bubble created by my husband and me. We couldn’t completely block out world events, but we could put a kinder, gentler, and hopefully more well-reasoned spin on them. Back in those days, we could still make our sons feel safe.

But we didn’t shield them too much. When the local teacher’s union called a strike, my boys and I joined their picket line. We wanted them to know that when you see something that isn’t right, you speak up, and that when you add your voice to those of others who share your vision, you become stronger.

They both still believe that. They were transfixed and elated by recent events in the Middle East, and they both support the Occupy movement.

As they were growing up, I often wondered how their father and I would feel if one of them began leaning towards the right. In fact, I remember experiencing a flash of recognition at a plot line in Woody Allen’s 1996 movie, “Everyone Says I Love You.” When Alan Alda’s character is relieved to learn that his son’s increasingly radical Republican leanings are caused by a brain tumor, I tittered nervously.

I am gratified that both our sons have remained on the same page with us politically, yet I am also torn when their comments about current events reflect a skepticism that I can’t argue with but wish they didn’t have to have.

For example, one son sent us a link to Ralph Nader’s response to President Obama’s recent State of the Union address, characterizing it as a “… good counterbalance to all the rah rah cowboy stuff as well as the false populist posturing.”

They are involved and thinking adults now. We trained them to question authority and they do. They ferret out hypocrisy more cooly and quickly than I ever could. And that makes me feel guilty, sad, and proud all at once.

Guilty because this beautiful blue orb isn’t the paradise that it could be. In spite of all our idealism and political action, my husband and I are passing on to them a world that may look beautiful from a distance — or benignly imperfect when viewed from inside a parentally-created bubble — but that quickly reveals some pretty ugly flaws once you scratch the surface.

Sad because I’ll always want to protect them, even when I know I can’t. Even now that they are capable of protecting themselves. Sad that the struggles their father and I continue to engage with are becoming theirs.

Proud because they and others of their generation are caring, perceptive, and unafraid. They know what is right and they aren’t going to settle for less. When we do leave this flawed paradise, it will be in good hands.

Occupy Boston, fall 2011.

*Full lyrics to “How Long” are here.