This Just Can’t Be Who We Are
Yesterday I read an article in the Washington post about a family whose child was killed in the Newtown school shootings, it was heartbreaking and important and I sat at my kitchen table wiping away tears as I read. Reading about this family struggling to put their lives back together, to move forward for the boy’s siblings, made me realize that all of our lives have gone on but, in some ways, theirs are frozen in time. It is relatively easy, after the initial horror passes, for those of us not personally touched by such a shocking, violent event to start to intellectualize things. On the one hand, that’s important because we need to think about what happened, we need to figure out how to prevent it happening again. On the other hand, there are twenty six families for whom what happened in Newtown can never be put into an intellectual box–the emotional tangle of disbelief, profound loss, grief, rebuilding of lives, and all the other things they must be experiencing prevents that from ever happening.
The article made me think, really think, about what it means for parents to not only lose a child but to lose a child in such a brutal, violent way. Maybe, as a mother, I’d not thought about how horrifying that would be because it’s just too bloody scary to think of losing a child to violence, to know that they were terrified in their last moments and you couldn’t be there to hug them close, to comfort them, to try to protect them. This is the part of the article that really drove all of this home for me:
But lately everything about the house reminded them of Daniel, comfort and affliction all at once. Up there, on the ceiling, was the sticky toy he had bought in a vending machine and accidentally thrown too high. In the kitchen was the blender Mark had used to make him a smoothie each afternoon, always with four gummy vitamins at the bottom of the glass, always, in Daniel’s words, “the best one yet!” Out front was the dead-end road where he had waited for the school bus in a sprinter’s crouch each morning, so he could run alongside it for a block before climbing on board. Out back was the wooden play structure where he had knocked his head and bled for the first time, which sometimes made Mark and Jackie wonder about the last time. Had it been quick? Had he been scared? Had anybody held him?
When you have kids it’s not just your heart that is filled by them, it’s your home. I looked around and saw just how much of my children there is on every counter, in every corner, on every bookshelf, closet, wall, floor, our home is filled with our children–stray stuffed animals, a book half read on the arm of the couch, toy cars lined up in a row, a creation taped to a wall, a hair band, a marker top … If you lost a child none of that would be erased, those spaces wouldn’t be cleaned they would just be emptied, never filled in the same way, and you would still know your child was gone, taken from you, stolen.
When I finished reading the article I composed myself and went in search of one of my children. My youngest, my “sweet sweet baby” as he is nicknamed, was at a sleepover, I was desperate to feel him in my arms. My middle child was having her computer time, playing minecraft. I wandered into the office and asked her how it was going, she smiled and told me all about what she was building and as she did that I ran my fingers through her hair, thinking about parents who would never be able to experience these simple joys again–the velvet touch of your child’s hair, the sound of your child’s voice. I can’t imagine, I just can’t. I looked at my beautiful little girl, so vibrant and joyful, so many possibilities ahead of her, so much promise, so much excitement in store for her, and just felt profoundly grateful that she was sitting next to me.
When we were preparing to leave Ireland my oldest told me he was worried about going to school in Virginia, he said he was scared it wasn’t safe, scared that someone would come into his classroom with a gun. I reassured him it wouldn’t happen, that it was rare for something like that to happen, that he would be safe. I reassured him while keeping it to myself that I was scared of the same thing. It happened to me, when I was in college, and it was traumatizing. Nobody was hurt, the man was tackled by students and taken away by police, but huddling under a desk watching a screaming man wildly waving a gun around is terrifying. We were adults, I can’t imagine children going through that, I can’t imagine what they saw in their last moments, and, honestly, I would rather not, at least not to dwell on it.
Our Constitution was written to be fluid, to evolve as we evolve, and it was written during a time when high capacity rifles didn’t exist, when it wasn’t possible to steal twenty six lives in the blink of an eye. It is so important to acknowledge that, as of now, this is the choice we’ve made, we’ve chosen guns over children. We’ve chosen extremism over sensible, reasonable regulations. Really. What does that say about who we are, what we value, the future we want for our children?
I want my kids to be safe, I want them not to be frightened, I want that for all children. For now, reassuring my children that they are safe in the US, as much as I need to do that, feels like a bit of a lie. This just can’t be who we are.