Friday, December 13, 2013

Angels

December 14, 2012, I saw the words "shooting at Newtown elementary school" creep into my Twitter feed. I was at my desk in my office in Darien, CT, 25 or so miles away from Newtown. My husband grew up in Newtown. His father spent most of his teaching career there. Thoughts racing, my brain dove into the mental gymnastics that result from close proximity to tragedy.

As information trickled out, I saw, like so many others, the Newtown Bee's photo of crying children walking in a line, hand to shoulder, filing out of school.

"At least no one was hurt," a well-meaning co-worker uttered to no one in particular. It was still the early moments, when the depth and breadth of the atrocity were still known only to a relative few.

But I couldn't breathe.

"Shooter."

"Elementary school."

The juxtaposition of the words alone was too much for me. But that photo was literally more than I could bear.

Details trickled through, 140 characters at a time. One -- possibly two -- people injured. A teacher wounded.

I walked, on shaking legs, to a meeting, hanging onto every new bit of information, fiercely hoping that the feeling in my gut was nothing more than my overdeveloped anxiety response. But then, I walked into the boardroom and saw the faces of my colleagues -- all of whom have young children -- and I just knew.

I think we all did.

A flood of incomprehensible details followed. 26 people dead. Mostly first graders. Almost immediately, people began using the word "angels" to describe the 20 little children and their teachers who were executed in their school that day.

My own kids -- angels -- both first graders at the time, were 10 miles away from me, in their own school. A flurry of frantic texts flew between me and my husband. He would pick up the kids early from school. I would meet them at home.

And then...what would we say?

We said a lot of things. We tried to be vague. We tried to mitigate the horror. We tried to obfuscate. Mostly, we wanted to be the filters for their information, rather than leaving them to hear about it from some older kids on the bus or at school. I don't remember everything we said. But I do remember making them some promises. We promised them that their school was safe. We promised them that this was an anomaly -- an isolated incident.

We promised them.

But on the eve of this horrible anniversary, I feel like a liar.

Their school isn't safe.

Since the Sandy Hook massacre, there has been -- on average -- a school shooting every two weeks in America.

Read that again: Since the Sandy Hook massacre, there has been -- on average -- a school shooting every two weeks in America. There was one today in Littleton, CO, just a few miles from Columbine.

This is an outrage. It is the mark of an uncivilized, uneducated and unengaged society.

Where are the masses marching on Washington, demanding change?

I know there are pockets of concerned parents and individuals. There are organizations that have sprung up in the wake of loss that follows a tragedy like Newtown.

But there's been no large-scale, collective, galvanized response to this outrageous violence that has become ubiquitous in our schools.

Every two weeks.

What the hell are we waiting for?

There are those who argue that more guns are better. Armed teachers and security professionals will be able to prevent harm, they say. And yet, the United States is the country with the most guns per capita, clocking in at 89 guns to every 100 people. And also, the United States is the country with the most deaths by gun violence.

I'm at a loss as to how to make the math work to support that argument.

Every two weeks.

Our children are NOT safe at school.

...........................

We had our first real snow a couple of days ago. My kids were vibrating with excitement. But they had indoor recess that day. Apparently, the school was concerned about the danger of ice on the black top... By the time the kids came home, they were nearly impossible to contain. So, we released them into the yard, and the expanse of untouched snow.

Almost immediately, they lay down, spread their arms, and made snow angels, their laughter echoing.

Those angels are still out there tonight, silent sentinels.

And those angels, they're watching.

They're waiting to see what we do.






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