Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Loss of Innocence

The human mind is an interesting thing.  I cant tell you what I ate for breakfast yesterday (or, honestly, if I even did eat it... Sometimes, I eat at like 3am then some sort of brunch like time, depending on how I'm feeling).  But I can tell you where I was, what I was wearing, what I was watching, and the exact words my dad said to me on the telephone on January 26, 1986.  I remember watching, with a child's eyes, the colors that flashed across the sky, of not clearly understanding what I was seeing, of the horror in my father's voice as he told me "I'm coming home right now", after calling to remind me to turn on the television to watch the launch of the space shuttle, Challenger.  I can close my eyes and see the sweater- it was navy blue, I think, or black- that President Reagan wore, as he mourned with the families of those heroic astronauts who left this world to 'touch the face of God'.  I don't remember what I wore to church last weekend, but I remember asking my parents if the astronauts were hurting when the shuttle exploded, and how they tried to explain that they were probably asleep.  At the time, people thought they may have lost consciousness; of course, as an adult, I realize that may not have been the case and that they may have known exactly what was happening as they were hurled into the ocean.  Even now, it gives me chills to think about.  Even now, 25+ years later, I still think about those people on the 26th of January.  I can't help it.  It's just a part of my psyche, of who I was, of who I am.

I don't remember what I wore on my first day of high school, although I'm sure at the time, I put so much work into that outfit, and how I wore my hair, and whether or not I was able to wear makeup.  (I dont think I was... I think my parents made me wait until I was 16, but honestly, I'm not sure...)  But I remember the look of horror on my mother's face in May of 1986, when the television show showed what, back then, would be thought of as some sort of freak, never happens event: a school shooting.  Although I had to dig to find out the details (it was the Cokeville Elementary School Hostage Crisis), I remembered the parents lining up outside the school, as their children were held by a husband-wife gunman team with a bomb.  I remember the sorrow on my mother's face as she wept and said that these things dont happen... That schools are the safe place where you leave your children... I was ending Kindergarten, Jimmy was still a baby.  How much it must have terrified her to know that she would have to take me back to a safe place that maybe wasn't so safe after all.

I don't remember the taste of my wedding cake or how long we stayed at the reception before we left for our honeymoon.  (Pictures and a dress/veil combo in my basement keep my memory fresh on the outfit, of course).  But I remember my own horror as I watched the news, broadcasting the screaming parents as they ran towards Dunblane Primary School, begging the police to let them in, pleading for information about their children.  Praying and hoping beyond all reason that their child was not among the 5 and 6 year olds slaughtered.  I remember the news mentioning that the teacher, who died trying to protect the young children in her care, was pregnant.  That her family lost them both.  I wasn't yet 16 years old.  My mom and I were watching the television together and, again... That look of sorrow and grief.  I didn't understand her tears.  It was awful and tragic, yes, but I couldn't understand her tears.  In my head, I wasn't imagining one of those children as my own.  I wasn't watching the news with my daughter and having the flash of what if it had been her school go through her head.  My brother was 12 and still in primary school; could it have been his classroom? 

I was preparing for my own high school graduation on May 22nd, when the news that a high school student shot another in a town a few hours away- a town we drove through everytime we went to see my great-grandparents.

April 20, 1999: I was in college, at a student prayer group.  We were all blown away by the bullied kids who opened fire on their high school in what would be known as simply "Columbine".  I remember holding hands with the other students and praying for all of the people killed and injured and their families.  I remember the feeling of coldness that spread through my body when I realized that my little brother was in high school.  Was he being bullied?  Was he one step away from something like that?

September 11th: I was wearing an orange sweater with white cuffs and collar. Peter was supposed to go to Columbia University in NYC for work.  We didn't have cell phones and all the lines between our PA home and his NJ office were busy.  Hours waiting... Hoping they hadn't gone... Praying that, if they had, they were trapped on the highway and not in the City.

It was an unseasonably warm day for early October.  I was at work but decided to leave and grab a cup of coffee because what I'd made just wasn't doing it for me.  The radio was on when I got into the car.  At first, the words didn't make sense.  Amish. Shooting. Children dead.  A shooting at an Amish schoolhouse? Not the Amish- they wouldn't... No, of couse not.  The children hadn't attacked each other; an outsider had attacked them.  In spite of their grief, however, they turned to forgiveness instead of anger.  I remember my shock at the situation and my amazement at how an entire community could find so much love instead of the anger that many of us would have found.

And now, there's a new day. December 14, 2012. The day before my brother's 29th birthday.  The day that I became my mother.  The day that I sobbed for the other parents because, for once, I really got it in a way that I never had before.  They day that I mourned that innocent belief that my kids were safe when we dropped them at school because, they are... Right?

A simple email from Peter, forwarding me a link from a coworker that said "I dont know if you've seen this" and, a moment later, my wishing that I hadn't, my wishing that I could not just take it back but undo the day and somehow stop Sandy Hook Elementary School from opening. 

I read the news in sheer horror.  I couldn't breathe.  My chest began to heave, my stomach to recoil.  I started sobbing uncontrolably.  In the faces of those parents, I saw myself.  In their children, I saw my own innocent, sweet, perfect three year olds, being dropped off at a school they enjoy with a teacher they adore- a teacher that, I'm sure, would throw herself in front of any one of those kids to try and save them, regardless the cost to herself.  But the idea that she would have to... That someone might... I can't even dare speak the words.

I dont want to remember yesterday.  I dont want to think those unthinkable thoughts as I hold Bobby and Maya close and pray to God that I'll never have to fathom a life without them. 

For now, the tears are still close to the surface and my heart continually aches for our neighbors in Connecticut that are facing the unknown and painful road ahead as they bury and mourn their children and loved ones.  May God have mercy on them and hold them close.


Paula said...

It does hit much harder once you can imagine your own child in that place. A boy who was in some of Jason's classes was killed last week. He was on a dirt bike and a man on a dirtbike hit him. The man told the boy's father he was going for help but he didn't. He just disappeared until he was found hours later at the hospital seeking assistance for his own minor wounds. Every time I let Jason go out with his friends, a part of me worries. While Jason's not allowed to ride dirtbikes (of course, I have to hope and pray he honors that restriction when he's not with us), he does other rather dangerous things such as wrestling. But it doesn't even need to be a dangerous endeavor; just going to the mall or school can be dangerous - simple, everyday, ordinary things becoming a parent's worry.

trennia said...

You wrote this the same exact way I have felt and do's those moments that change your life.(((hugs))) praying for all the families.My heart is broken for them.