Faith

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.'”

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.

The helpers.

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.

Faith.

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.

faith

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21 thoughts on “Faith

  1. This is a beautiful post, Melissa, in the saddest way possible. Your love for your children is without limit, which makes it all the more difficult to realize that your ability to protect them is not.

    I’ve been wondering over the past few days if the number of kids being home-schooled is going to jump in the next year. Your vigilance at the store may be a partial solution to this current wave of insanity — one entrance at each school, with parents taking turns screening visitors right at the door. (It’s interesting that the store was called Target.)

    Merry Christmas, my friend. Be safe and warm.

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  2. As a mother I wish I could erase every fear or doubt. When the unthinkable happens, it is the hardest to have faith. But as the quote your friend mentioned, looking for the helpers is a beautiful, simple, yet poignant reminder that they are there. Perhaps you do not even realize it, but while you already do this in so many ways, that you are a helper too.

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  3. A lovely and poignant post, Melissa. Mine are both in high school now and their worries are as innocent as even the youngest of children. Will I be safe? Why is there a policeman in my lunch room? Why is there a sheriff at the movie theater and at the mall? And just like you, I watch them leave every morning and pray that they will be safe: in the car, on the bus, at the mall, in the theater, at school–everywhere. But most of all, I look for those children who need help from all of us; the children who desperately need a mentor, a hug, and a smile, for I believe if we all just took one suffering child under our wings, we just might be able to make a difference in the world. A big hug to you, your husband, and your beautiful children.

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  4. This is a powerful post Melissa. I remember when my youngest was about three, hearing about the brutal murder of several family members of a work friend in the Philippines, including his own toddler son. It gutted me and left me feeling lost for days; it was just something I couldn’t process. I know I have learned to tune out so much of the bad news that we hear, because it is too painful to contemplate it all, but some things just hit home, especially when something about the people or the circumstances matches your own life. I think that choosing to embrace life and the faith you need to live it each day is absolutely right.

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  5. Well done, Melissa. Send it to Elizabeth Warren and Obama. CC to the NRA and the gun manufacturers. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” That leaves us with a couple of choices–get rid of people, which is unlikely, or get rid of guns, which given the current state of affairs is unlikely. Given also that Obama waffles so much on this and given that Congress is unlikely to do anything about guns, the killing will go on. When the mad man opens fire on the private schools where the lawmakers send their children, then, maybe, they, the NRA and the lawmakers, will understand that, in fact, guns do kill people. But as long as it’s someone else’s children dying, not much can be expected to change. Who has the guts to save the children? Have faith, but get mad too.

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  6. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me this morning so candidly. We need to reach out, provide a safety of expression for each other. After 911 things were different. Our lives were changed. After Sandy Hook, again things are very different. My mother and I attended a Christmas concert at our church Sunday evening where my husband was singing. During a beautiful piece, there was a loud bang and everyone jumped and heads turned to the direction of the sound. The plywood lid to the sound board temporarily propped up against a wall had fallen. We are very fragile right now jumping at loud noises and interpreting things that are strange to us for good or bad. Our faith is being tested. I have been told time and time again, the opposite of faith is worry. Oh I’m being tested, as right now, I don’t see any answers.

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  7. I have been thinking of you Melissa, and your lovely children, ever since the senseless carnage at Newtown. I knew. I just knew how you would react. And now I am so proud of you that you were able to rise above the paralyzing fear and trust in “the helpers” to spread protective wings around your loved ones. This post really made me cry and then hope that other parents out there can, even now, find more good than evil in a world that can be so shockingly frightening and cruel..

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  8. This post is a piece of beautiful writing that comes straight from your heart. I do favor gun control, but realize that if somebody has his mind set on creating such devastation he will find other ways of accomplishing his hideous goal.

    How many such crimes have been committed by mentally unstable people, many of whom killed themselves afterwards? There must be better ways of dealing with these insurmountable horrors.

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  9. A beautiful post in the wake of such a tragic event in your country. Here in Australia, I didn’t even know about it until a full day after it happened, and it’s something which we move on from quickly here. Not just because it happened in another country, but also because it’s something which just doesn’t happen in our country. It happened once, terribly a number of years ago, gun controls were brought in and it has never happened again. I hope with all my heart that your government sees sense, and that people allow the gun laws to be brought in.
    Keep loving your children as you do and seeing the ‘light’ whatever that might be.

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  10. That was a wonderful post. When you were describing the man in Target it was making me think he was someone with Asperger’s Syndrome. I have Asperger’s and the media has been in the, “let’s connect the shooter with Asperger’s mode.” A person with Asperger’s does not commit mass shootings and I am worried there will be a witch hunt of people with Asperger’s. I hope your kids stay safe in this world we are in right now. It’s sad to see many mass shootings in a week.

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  11. Melissa, I too have been in a dark place filled with anger, sorrow, and fear, but your post provides a glimmer of light. Thank you. You expressed so much of what I’ve been feeling, but have been unable to put into words.

    Jack’s comment above also resonated: “Who has the guts to save the children? Have faith, but get mad too.” Well, I am about as mad as I can be, and it’s fueling something deep inside that’s finally making me feel ready to take on that challenge, to say, “Enough is enough.” I don’t even know where I’d begin, but somehow I picture a Million Mom March being a powerful tool for change. Get a mama bear riled enough and there’s nothing she won’t do for her little one.

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  12. The incident has left us stunned and shattered. That this could have happened to the sweet little angels is beyond our imagination. God bless their parents with strength and courage. May He give guidance to those gone astray, and may He strengthen our hearts that we be more caring and compassionate to people around us. Amen.
    Thank you, for this post, Melissa. Be safe. Warm hugs xx

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  13. What a rough week it’s been for our nation, and especially the folks in Newton. Your post touches a nerve in all of us–the knowledge that someone out there has the power to harm our innocent children. It’s beyond heartbreaking, but I refuse to let the fear take a hold of me because as you pointed out, there is way more good out there than evil. That being said, it’s also time for us as a nation to make some big changes when it comes to gun control. Beautiful post, Melissa. Merry Christmas to you and your family!

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  14. Melissa I can’t see through the tears… My small children are all grown now, but after I read your heartfelt mother’s plea I once again became the mother of elementary school kids, and the thought of having to send them off to school the day after that lunatic — oh god I too would have kept them home and I too would have been scared of the man in Target…
    Thank you Mr Rogers (wherever you may be): Look to the helpers -those teachers. I think of the teacher who hid with her kids in the bathroom and kept telling them she loved them….

    I don’t think the solution is putting men with guns in the schools. I believe that President Obama is finally going to do something. Why do I say that? Because when he spoke after he’d heard about the shootings and he kept wiping away the tears he stood there as a father of two small girls not as the president of this country… When something as horrible and unthinkable as a massacre in an elementary school in a small town -and one which hasn’t had a murder in over ten years (viz the chief of police on NPR) – in the United States happens on his watch, it’s his fault, he’s responsible.

    I hope you and your lovely family have a Merry Christmas Mellisa.
    love
    rosie

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  15. We live in difficult times. Innocent children being shot dead or a young girl raped nearly to the point of death (as it happened in my country) plunges us into gloom and the darkness rushes in to smother all of us. Faith, as you rightly said, alone can pull us through. Faith alone can keep us moving towards the light. The sun shall rise, regardless. Thanks for yet another wonderful post.

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  16. May your faith sustain you each and every day as you send your little ones off to school. May your love for them strengthen them for all the challenges they will face. May all of us, as a nation and a people, find a way to push back the darkness, to expand the light of peace and love in the new year that lies before us.

    Thank you as always for sharing your deeply personal and profoundly moving thoughts.

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  17. I can relate, for I have three children myself. I pray when I drop them off to school. I pray when I remember them during the day. It’s the one shield I use to surround them when I am not with them.

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