We got our son ready for school this morning. Rain pelting the windows. His little face peeking out from under a hat. Huddled, as we were, by the back door. His sister in her footed pajamas dancing on my husband’s feet. Me tucking my son’s dinosaur lunch box with his snack for school into his backpack. Everything familiar and yet everything was different.
I hugged him a little tighter. Kissed his soft, sweet cheek. Hugged him again. I’d kept him home yesterday, the first day back to school since the tragedy. I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t come to grips with what happened in a small, quiet town so similar to my own. I couldn’t let my baby go to school. To a school I’d vetted, visited and volunteered at since he began in late August. A public school, with the same kind of setup, the same kinds of students as were unthinkably, unforgivingly murdered in Connecticut.
I have no answers. None of us does.
And for a while, that paralyzed me.
I walked down the dark road of fear and despair. Felt the same hopeless, helpless feelings as when I’ve handed my son over for his surgeries. Only this time, it was darker. It was the cold iron hand of evil wrapping around my choices. Keep him home and begin homeschooling, send him to public school and live in fear, look into private schools and live in denial that these killings, these murders happen all over the place all over the country. Shopping malls, universities, theaters.
At Target over the weekend a large man walked by my children and me. He hadn’t shaved and was humming some sort of odd tune. As it was, the surreal aura of a department store days before Christmas had already rattled me. People pushing and shoving their carts into mine. Thoughtless and unfocused and full of mass consumerism. I’d come in for some odds and ends and the tragedy in Connecticut echoed in my mind. I looked at that man and thought — I must watch him. I must be more vigilant. Why is he strolling through Target without a cart, humming and forcing his way down the center of the aisles.
The more I thought about it the more I checked for the guard they post at the front of the store. And the more I sank into fear.
I felt as if I had a duty to protect the other shoppers. Maybe I’d noticed something they hadn’t. Maybe I could just– Just–
At home I tucked my children into bed and sat down with my husband to discuss our children and their futures. Living in a world we never dreamed of back when we were in grade school. I thought of the families. Who’d lost their children. And I cried.
There are no answers.
There never will be.
And so I kept my son home on Monday. I was paralyzed.
I talked with my husband, my parents, my friends. But nothing helped. Fear had a grip on my heart and the more I fought the tighter it clung. I pictured my little boy at his desk, just like the little boys and girls in Newtown. I wondered what words I could give a five-year-old to protect himself at school. “If a man with a gun rushes into your building…” But of course I didn’t tell him. If he hears about this from his friends at school, I’ll be honest in my answers to his questions. But he’s five. So even if I tell him in words he can process, I won’t tell him much. There’s no set way to explain this to your children, which means there’s no set way to protect them.
And that’s why I watched that man in Target. That’s why I slowed my pace through the store to see if he had a gun under his jacket. That’s how things have to be now. That’s the bottom line.
Or so I thought.
One of my friends shared a quote with me that had brought her some peace. She has a first-grader, just a little older than my son. The quote is from Mr. Rogers, which is odd, as neither of us have watched that show in years. But it goes something like this: “When I was young, and saw scary things on the news, it really bothered me. Until my mother said, ‘look for the helpers.'”
My gut reaction was to discount the quote. So entrenched in fear for my children I thought, the helpers cannot protect them. It’s useless. Nothing is safe.
And then I stopped. And a new sense of peace began to blossom, there in the darkness of the valley of death. A friend of mine lost his son last summer. The little boy was four-years-old. We attended the services, and the sight of that tiny body in a tiny casket is, to this day, the saddest thing I have ever seen. I thought of that little boy, and his light, extinguished too soon. I thought of the twenty other children, now with their lights stolen from them. I thought of my nights tucking my son in and my mornings straightening his winter hat and how their nights and their mornings will never be the same. Will forever be, missing.
And instead of fighting these thoughts, I embraced them. I must remember the fear, the darkness, the cold. I must accept them. Cherish the darkness because only then can I see the light.
I have no clue what that man was doing in Target. In the end, obviously nothing. He went about his business and I went about mine and the store rang in sales as people all over prepared to celebrate the season.
I’m not a believer in “life goes on.” I don’t feel that “time heals all wounds.” I believe that when you have a deep and dark sadness it stays with you, always. And either it will consume you, or it will become just part of the whole. That’s what finally struck me last night. Short of keeping my children in a bubble in our basement, there is nothing I can do to shield them from the darkness. All I can do is to focus, as best I can, on the light.
We all have it, to some degree. And this morning, as I watched my son zip up his jacket, his smiling face beaming and ready to see his friends and learn new things and head out the door, so utterly innocent — I took a breath.
He walked out with my husband. My daughter raced to the window to wave goodbye. And there I stood, alone in the kitchen, my hands clasped by my heart in prayer for him to be safe. Tears filled my eyes. My fingers dug into my hands. There are good people in this world. Ready to do anything to protect another human. Ready to do even the simple things like hold the door. They’re out there. Sometimes it’s not easy to see them. It’s easier to see the man in Target as a foe, not a friend. It’s not easy to see the good. Especially when our world plunges into chaos as it did this past Friday. So I’m trying my best to remember the simple, yet challenging concept, of having a little faith.