…in light of yesterday’s events at Sandy HookElementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
I fear for us. I see us changing in ways that frighten me. I sat, glued to the television yesterday waiting for the WHY? — Why did this happen? Why an elementary school? Why 20 innocent little children? Why did a 20 year old young man want to kill his mother and all that she loved? Why so close to Christmas?
I looked into the forlorn eyes of my fifteen year old daughter, as she watched intently. I wanted to have the answers for the questions she was looking for.
Before I had children, I recall my grandmother saying, “Why anyone would want to bring children into this world is something I’ll never understand.” I looked at her, stunned, really, as she was the epitome of everything one would expect a grandmother to be. Caring and warm, attentive and giving. I brushed her comment off as being jaded– one, coming from an old woman who was tired and didn’t understand progress. I was so wrong. Instead, she was a woman who understood very deeply, for she’d seen tragedies I had yet to in all of my hope and naiveté.
It wasn’t until my son was four years old and I witnessed the Oklahoma City Bombings on t.v. that I first came to connect to my grandmother’s words. I held my baby tightly in my arms as I heard about the pre-school children who had lost there lives among so many others. I watched the devastation. Images that would become imprinted in my mind. One fireman handing a baby wrapped up in cloth to another. A child’s lone shoe amidst all the rubble. The American flag waving, the backdrop, to ash-stained fireman in the foreground.
Four years later, the horrific Columbine shootings followed. I was home when the news broke, two of my children two blocks away at elementary school. All I wanted was to fetch them and hold them. I recall phoning the school that day to see if they’d be let out early– no early dismissal. When they came home, my eldest had been watching the day’s events unfold on a t.v. in classroom. I was mortified that the school allowed this– he was far too young and too innocent to see the images of students fleeing, running for their lives, some jumping out of windows, and all of the stretchers that rolled through the screen. My little one knew nothing, but he would come to hear the stories. They both had questions. I answered them as briefly as I could trying to satisfy their curiosity and calm their fears without revealing too much detail. We hugged a lot. I came to fear them going to school, from that day forward, into the unknown and into the knowing that seemingly innocent children could be so distraught and mixed up that they’d take the lives of their peers in an act of revenge. Something like that had never occurred to me before this event.
Then came 9/11. A day that is etched in all of our minds. For we were all affected in some way. Francois Mauriac writes in the Forward to Night, a memoir by Elie Wiesel, an Holocaust survivor, “It is not always the events that have touched us personally that affect us the most…I witnessed during that dark period had marked me as deeply as the image of cattle cars filled with Jewish children at the Austerlitz train station… Yet I did not even see them with my own eyes.” Like Mauriac, all of my securities had been shaken to the very core by 9/11. The images are branded in my mind like the numbers branded on the prisoners of the Holocaust. The way I lived and thought and believed was turned upside down. And though I had not been directly affected in the way so many had (the survivors, those who lost their loved one, and all of the people who rushed in– the kind of heroism I don’t believe I’ll even witness again), the way I live my life has changed. I am a little more aware of my surroundings, of the people in my midst, of an escape route, of the proximity of my children to me; I hold my children more and cherish them even more than that. I say what I feel even when it’s uncomfortable, sometimes, so my loved ones know what they mean to me.
It’s all coming so much closer to home, my home. Both in a geographic sense, this event occurring just a thirty minute drive from me, and metaphorically, too– affecting educators and parents and children.
Yesterday’s events remind me of how tentative and unfair life is. As a mom, always first and foremost, I can’t help but feel empathy for those parents waiting for word about their children who had not been there to greet them at the firehouse as so many other children had. As a friend, who witnessed the grief of a close friend who lost her nine year old daughter in a senseless fire, I can’t help but think what is going through the minds of the parents who lost their children and are questioning how they died and what kind of pain and fear they endured beforehand. I think about how they go home to a pile of Christmas gifts for a child who will never receive them– they were supposed to bring so much joy, and that joy has been ripped from them. As an educator, I sympathize with all of those surviving teachers who were heroes in the face of evil, but they need to go back to work in that building, they need to mourn the loss of colleagues who were so dear to them, they need to find a way to carry on.
This is what my grandmother meant. For I have seen what she had seen and, at the time of her words, I was still innocent of. The trouble is, children are losing their innocence earlier and earlier in their lives. The stresses become greater and the world becomes colder. Gun laws need to be changed– I was never before a proponent of that. I naively believed that guns don’t kill people, people do. But this 20 year old, allegedly autistic young man had been given guns because he allegedly like to target shoot. What if he’d not be given guns. What if he’d not been exposed to violence at such an early age– those video games and the gratuitous violence on t.v. and in movies. What if, instead of that, he’d been given proper mental healthcare. I know I’m making many assumptions here– grasping. But that’s what we do in the face of tragedy. We grasp. For a better way. Isn’t there a better way?
Through the Oklahoma City Bombings, I learned that there are Americans that hate our country so much that they’d kill, ruthlessly, to be heard. Through the Columbine shootings, I learned that video games and bullying could affect people so detrimentally to lead to senseless violence in a school, where our children are supposed to be learning and safe. Through 9/11, I learned that hate for our country extends far beyond our own borders and lives in people who we consider to be our neighbors. Through the Sandy Hook killings, I learned that it’s all so senseless and I don’t know what to believe anymore.
But, still, I hope. Because I have brought children into this world, and I cannot give up hope for their future.
I pray you will hope with me, too, and move beyond the hope to take action– against hate, violence, guns, bullying, the lack of support (mental or physical) for those in need.
After each of these heinous events, proof that people are innately good is in the coming together we’ve witnessed to help them cope and rebuild. Let’s take that a step further– do whatever we have to (and I’m not quite sure what that is, yet) to end this senseless violence. I believe that any action we take is better than inaction.
A concerned American citizen, mother, teacher…