Friday, January 18, 2013

Shooting in Newtown, CT

(I wrote this a while ago, and have debated for a month whether or not to publish it.)

Another shooting happened today at a school in Newton, Connecticut. Senseless and tragic. Words that will be thrown around for days as politicians and people on both sides of the gun control debate yammer on and on with no change, no action. Just a lot of words. I don’t think that the horrific loss of these precious little lives will change the discourse, the laws, the way we express anger, the way we treat those around us who are mentally unstable. In short, I think that these tiny children’s lives will have been in vain. That’s just where I am right now.

Today, a mother had to identify the body of her little girl. A father sits outside a surgical room wondering if his son will come out alive. A brother’s heart is breaking because the last conversation he had with his sister this morning in the car was one where he teased her. A sister cries because she will never get to eat Saturday morning pancakes with her brother again. Presents will sit unopened under many, many Connecticut Christmas trees. Santa will have fewer stockings to fill. Next week, a mom will find a favorite t-shirt in the laundry basket that will never be worn again, and a dad will step on a toy train that will never be played with again. A grandma will never get to shower her grandson with kisses again, and a grandpa will never be allowed to sit and share another ice cream cone with his granddaughter.

When I first heard about all of this mess, I thought, like we all do, what if that was me? What if that was my child? What would I do? How would I carry on? How do people recover? These are awful realities to be faced with. So many families are dealing with these questions right now. My heart is truly breaking for them right now. It’s thoughts like these that prompt us all to go home and hug our kids a bit tighter and longer tonight. These are the things that will be on so many parents’ minds when they choose not to lose their temper at the dinner table when the kids are getting a bit rowdy tonight.

It would be awful, yes. I can’t even imagine. I try to imagine, but my brain will only go so far. I can’t really, honestly put myself in the shoes of those grieving parents right now. I just can’t.

When stuff like this has happened in the past, It has been difficult, sure. Pre-kids, I was saddened. I cried. Right? Now that I have kids, these kinds of events (and so many others) have impacted me in a completely different way. However, this one was even closer to home than the others. My understanding is that these children were in first grade. They were still babies, maybe not in diapers and cooing, but babies nonetheless. My own children are in kindergarten. Oh. My. Holy. Hell.

And, in the past, I have selfishly thought about myself. I think that we all do this. What if this child was mine? What would I do? Etc. I think that this is normal. But this time, because the kids were so close in age to my own, I thought about this in an entirely different (for me) way.

How would my kids react if this happened to THEM? Not me. Not “what if I lost my child,” but “what would my child do” and “how would my child feel” in that split second when they faced hate and evil and death.

It literally brought me to tears for the remainder of the day. It was all I could do to stay at my desk – with lots of tissues at hand – for much of the day. It was hard to talk in the evening without sobbing. We did not have the TV on any of the regular channels on purpose. We watched holiday movies and ate leftover Chinese food and did the boys’ homework – all of these things made me cry. I had to keep excusing myself so that I could get my shit together. (I cry in front of the boys when appropriate, but doing so on this particular day would mean that I would have to explain why, and we hadn’t yet decided what we would say to them.)

I think that I’ve stated before that we are pretty careful about what the boys watch. We’re not over the top, but we’re careful. They’ve seen some PG movies and occasionally they will see a bit of violence on TV when we have been surprised by it or can’t change the channel fast enough. But, we try not to watch the news with them around, and we won’t let them watch violent or scary movies. So, Star Wars? Harry Potter? Too much. Nuh-uh. Not yet. They were both scared during the bear fight scene in the Disney movie “Brave,” for heaven’s sake. Winnie the Pooh is still magical, and Pocoyo cracks us up. Hell – we even restrict Looney Tunes because they start imitating the characters!

So, my point is that they are still very innocent.

As an adult who could, conceivably, be staring at the barrel of a gun someday, I would be able to understand that evil exists in the world. I might even be able to assign it to a category before being shot: mental illness, PTSD, sheer anger, domestic violence. I would have the understanding that I am mortal and that I could die. Right? I will die – someday – and I know what death means. I would understand that I could slowly bleed to death or go instantly. I might even summon up some courage to act against the attacker or maybe just some courage to die without screaming and wailing. I might not understand the reasons behind it, but I would understand the finality of it.

My boys would not.
These 20 other children likely did not.
So, what really stuck in my mind and my heart and has troubled me for days is this: what went through the minds of those innocent, beautiful, pure children? How did they feel as they died?
This is a horrible thought, I know.

Some of the children, mercifully, died instantly, but that doesn’t negate the fear and confusion that they had as the gunman stormed into their classrooms. Some of the children, I’m guessing, must have died a bit more slowly. They did not have a parent’s hand to hold as they slipped away. They didn’t have anyone to hold them close as they struggled for air to fill their lungs.

As a grown up, I hope that someone is there when I die – just to be there and comfort me – but I understand that I might die alone. Fine. Not ideal, but ok. I can deal with this because I understand death.

But those poor little babies….. They didn’t understand any part of what happened, and they didn’t have anyone there to tell them that they would be all right.

I guess this is where a belief in a god comes in handy.
I’m an agnostic. Can’t prove that there is a god, but can’t prove that there isn’t.
At times like this, I can hope.

We decided not to tell the boys anything about the tragedy. We continue to avoid the news. If they ask us, we will have an appropriate (meaning vague) discussion with them. They just aren’t ready for that particular reality.

But really, are any of us?
(The flag at my place of employment lowered in respect for the lives lost.)

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