I had about half a dozen ideas floating around in my head to write for this week. But I simply cannot even begin to write about anything else without first acknowledging what happened last Friday, December 14th, in Newtown, Connecticut.
If I can think of one event in my adulthood that has changed me as a human being and changed how I look at my life and the world as a whole, it is what transpired on the morning of September 11th, 2001. And now, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary last Friday morning has altered me once again, but this time in a much more profound way--as a parent.
Elizabeth Stone is quoted as saying, "Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body." As my children grow and pull farther and farther away from me, I feel this sentiment every single day, with every fiber of my being.
I have cried with joy and sorrow every September, so proud that my children have reached a new milestone, a new grade, and yet so sad to see their miniature bodies, the back of their little heads, disappear beyond their huge and heavy school doors. I worry almost endlessly while they are there. Will they listen to their teacher? Will they get along with the other kids? Will they be bullied, made fun of? Will they get hurt at recess? Will they get lost in that gigantic building, and will they know how to get help if they do?
A tiny part of me often worries that they won't be with their teacher when they come out at pick-up. It's irrational, but there it is.
After Friday, that worry is exponentially larger and more real.
On that morning of December 14th, 2012, evil invaded my life, all our lives, in a way that I never expected. That morning, in a small town in Connecticut, the unthinkable, the unspeakable, the unbelievable, became a reality for all those families at Sandy Hook Elementary.
26 souls lost. 20 of them small children.
As the story unfolded I was numb, in shock--then I started to weep and it feels like I haven't stopped since. I weep for those innocent babies--their tiny lives ripped away from them, their little bodies destroyed by a crazed psychopath and a gun. I weep for their parents, their grandparents, their aunts, uncles, and anyone who loved them. I weep for the heroic teachers and staff who no doubt sacrificed themselves for those children. I weep for the first responders--the people who had to descend upon the most horrific thing they will ever witness in their lifetimes. I weep for the survivors. The children who had to hold hands and close their eyes. The teachers who heard the screams and the gunshots and were powerless to stop them.
I weep for them, for us, for the human race. God help us.
It is true, people die in violence all over the world every day, children included. But for me, for every parent in America who sends their child to school--this particular case hits so close to home. Because I am those parents. We are those families. That morning, I dropped my children off at school, just like they did. I hugged them and watched them skip off and thought nothing of it, like those parents did. My mind quickly shifted to other things, to my to-do list, to my social engagements. I went to a good friend's home and we sang happy birthday to her beautiful little daughter. I assumed, as those parents did, that my children were safe and sound and that I would be seeing them at day's end.
The holiday gifts I have chosen for my children's teachers seem trite. Nothing I can think to give them speaks to how enormously grateful I am that my children are under their protection.
That morning, how many of the teachers and staff at Sandy Hook kissed their loved ones goodbye? How many huddled over their lesson plans, assuming it was going to be a typical day?
That morning, how many children woke up cheerfully, looking forward to a new day? How many were excited at the prospect of seeing their friends, for show and tell, for dance and art and social studies?
That morning, how many of those parents hurried their child along for fear of being late to school? How many lost their patience and might have yelled at their child to quit wasting time, as I have done more times than I can count?
How many let their children run off without one last hug? Without one last "I love you?"
Dropping off my children at school on Monday morning was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. As we said goodbye I hugged each of them tighter than I ever had before and as they disappeared beyond those doors I sobbed openly and uncontrollably into my husband's shoulder. I was both grateful for the opportunity to hug my children and destroyed by the thought that so many other parents cannot.
My sorrow for those families reaches no end. I am so deeply and immeasurably sorry for those families, those children.
That morning changed everything for them. For us all.
If you have ten extra minutes, please watch the video below.