My husband Jim works in a kindergarten classroom in the same school where our kids attend third and fourth grade. Jim is a teacher’s assistant, and he is also doing college work to get his own teaching degree. I rarely write about Jim in the context of the school because he deals with other people’s children, and that’s none of my or your business. Honestly, Jim never tells me anything other than general comments like some fifth kid threw a lunch tray at him, one of the older kids keeps writing “fu#* inside the slide roof on the playground, etc., but he doesn’t use names and I don’t know these kids. However, as a school volunteer I have personally observed or heard through the grapevine in the work room things that might reflect badly on your beloved school, so I keep all gossip to myself (as it should be). The result being that I don’t write about our neighborhood school on my blog, but today I will.
I’ve volunteered 1-2 hours a week at my kids’ school since 2008. First I did sight words, then Friday folders, and now I work in the library and the occasional holiday party. My current library volunteer schedule is Thursday morning. So, the last time I was at the school, the children at Sandy Hook were no different from the kids at our school. It was the day before the world changed again. I don’t typically take my kids to school because their dad works there, but I take them on Thursday. So, today I went back into the building where my kids have spent the better part of the past four years. I went back to the building where everyone who lives in my home was last Friday when violence happened in someone else’s school.
- Liam and Moira when they were age 7 and age 6.
I came in the school door and instead of going to the place where I scan my volunteer badge to record my hours I was met by a big desk right in the entry path and greeted by a delightful teacher we all love. That desk is new, and that desk is now staffed all day long. The teacher directed volunteers, postal workers, and anyone who had business in the building full of our greatest treasure. I was reassured by the flurry and presence of staff at the only unlocked point of entrance at the school, by the abundance of my neighbors walking their kids not only to the door of the school but all the way to their classrooms. But, I was also sad that we all felt the need to be there, to follow so closely.
But it didn’t really start to hit me hard until I walked through the hallway with the art and music rooms on either side, on my way to collect the books to check them in. I looked at ordinary windows and imagined breaking glass, bullets. I walked through a place so familiar that I never noticed there were windows in those walls and shook my head with disbelieve that such extraordinary violence could visit a place of innocence and promise, a place just like ours. I was doing OK, in the school, until I got to my husband’s kindergarten class. They had library (though now they call it media), and I had to collect their books to check them in before they were ready to get new ones.
Jim’s supervisor introduced me to the class, and it was like I was a celebrity. Everyone loves Mr. Adams, and I got a wave of love by proxy. One girl told me he talks about me all the time and I said, “Does he say nice things?” She giggled and said, “Always, he loves you!” Later on my way out of the building that same little girl ran to me and gave me a hug. This is what six is like.
Then we did a last call for library books. Apparently, because sometimes published authors visit the school to read, some of the kids heard that I wrote a book. They looked in the book bin and asked if my book was there. I smiled and said, “No just your books today.” Then I looked around and took them all in. I know my own children were that age just two and three years ago, but they don’t look like six year old kids anymore. Six year olds look like babies, with their big wide eyes, their ability to be so easily impressed. They looked like innocence incarnate, and I couldn’t make it out of the room without tears running down my face. I cried softly and walked slowly with my cart full of books back to the library, where I tried to put on a happy face as I checked in the sweet pictures books, most of them Christmas themed, that those children had returned.
I went to a movie last summer, not long after the shootings in nearby Aurora and wrote about that. Ironically, it took me six days to put my thoughts together then, and here we are six days later again. Yet, this was different today. Sandy Hook wasn’t so much scary as soul-shattering. This was the kind of horror that I felt when I went to the Jewish Cemetery in Prague and in the temple saw drawings made by children who survived the Holocaust displayed just beyond a room where thousands of names were written from floor to ceiling in red ink. That day in Prague was the first time in my life I heard the echo of evil in the indelible pain of atrocity. I felt it again today when, after six days, I began to really see what has happened.
What happened to Connecticut’s children and our nation last week was more than madness. This was evil. Some people say that the shooter had to be crazy, had to be mentally ill; maybe he was. But what he did was evil, and what that’s done is defiled the walls of schools, tainted the hearts of parents, and fractured the innocence of children in every school in America. People take comfort in saying things like this are isolated events, that people kill people not guns, throwing tantrums about gun rights even as children have yet to be buried. Why is this the discussion? Why are we not talking about our hearts, our souls, our very essence? Why has our humanity fallen second to rhetoric?
I believe that this event is only isolated if you’ve isolated your heart. If you love others as you love yourself, then we need to change our world and our world-view in so many meaningful ways and make it a better place. We need to each do our part to make the world what it should be instead of fighting about opinions that mean absolutely nothing when our inaction means everything. We need to love bigger than we hate. We need to hope bigger than we fear. I’m not nearly as scared as I am mortified. I am angry that we might give evil a pass because it’s “isolated,” and just let it grow. It’s growing, and we’re cringing. You notice I didn’t use the killer’s name – I will never speak his name, not out of fear but out of revulsion. Maybe that’s where we start, taking the glamor away from the evil doers. I don’t know, where do we start?
I am a mother just like every other mother whose heart is broken first for the families of Sandy Hook and broken again for the rest of our nation. I heard the echo of evil today, and I never want to hear it again. I wish I had some great answer, some surge of advocacy, but I don’t have any answer to evil except love. Can we all give a little more love? Maybe that’s where we start.