A week ago, I sat in the pickup line at school, staring at the building and trying unsuccessfully not to cry. The afternoon had been filled with horrific tales, updates and news coming from Connecticut, where 26 innocent lives were stolen away. How could this happen?
I decided that we would avoid the coverage and that I would mention it as lightly as I could to try to protect my kids from this harsh reality. When they jumped in the car, full of excitement from school with a “hi, Mom!” and piling their backpacks and coats between them as they caught their breath and clicked their seatbelts, they noticed I was upset. “Are you okay? Were you crying? What’s wrong?”
“Did you hear about the bad thing that happened today?”
“What, Mama? What happened?” they both chimed in from the back seat, talking over one another, trying to get information out of me, worried for what I would tell them.
“A very bad man hurt a lot of children very far away.”
“Is he coming here?” This is always the first question when kids hear that something bad happened. Their world is small; they think in terms of their immediate areas and their safety.
“No; he can’t.”
“Why can’t he? Is he dead?”
I hesitated before answering. “Yes.”
“Well, if he came here, could I fight him?” asked one. “Could I have permission to run away into someone else’s yard?” asked the other. Their innocence sucked the breath out of me; both of them older than the kids taken in this tragedy. The tears came again.
On Monday, when I returned to the pickup line and this time stared at the flag at half-mast, not even trying not to cry anymore, the kids were subdued when they got in the car. There were hugs and kisses that don’t normally happen. My son said, “Things will never be the same again, will they?” The tone at school was somber. Security procedures were reviewed, discussed and updated. The kids talked about some of the events, in age-appropriate ways, with their teachers, in the safety of their classrooms. Their teachers reassured them of their safety; of how hard the faculty works to protect them and keep them safe each day; of how much they are loved.
But, no, they won’t; things won’t be the same. We’ve all been affected by the tragedy in Newtown, it’s drawn us all together in a way that nothing else can. As one of the religious leaders said in the televised memorial on Sunday night, this has broken down barriers that stand between us; it has reminded us that we are all fathers and mothers; sons and daughters; brothers and sisters. It’s a pain that has pricked us all in the soul.
Now, a week later, we parents scattered around the country hug our children a little bit tighter and stiffen our spines a little when things take us by surprise, on alert for danger. We, so far away from the tragic events, can’t help but react to them. And it makes us imagine how difficult it must be for those families in Newtown, how difficult it must be for them to endure this holiday season after this incredible loss; and we say prayers for them, we wish them peace, again bringing the tears.
We struggle for ways to do something to counteract the pain we feel, and through efforts like those started by Ann Curry*,
we perform anonymous random acts of kindness in remembrance of life taken too soon. We collect donations, teddy bears and kindnesses to restore our own faith in humanity and to prove to others that there is goodness in this world.
All around us, discussions have begun about gun control, about better support for the mentally ill, about protecting our children from violence in a culture that seems to encourage violence as a socially acceptable art form for children to be exposed to. What’s the answer? We can’t change what happened; but can we stop it from happening again? There are arguments on both sides that make sense. I don’t know the answer.
I don’t know how to stop this sort of tragic event from happening again. But I know that I’m going to work hard to embrace kindness, to remind my children that there is more goodness in the world than evil, and that we should focus on the goodness that we see and feel and not allow the evil to overtake our thoughts. That’s what I’ll try to carry forward.
Eventually, the tragedy in Newtown won’t be in the front of everyone’s mind. I pray for all of those directly affected that the pain will fade a little, as grief will do as time passes, but I know that it will never fully go away for them, just as we as a nation will never fully forget.