"Twenty-seven?" I could barely choke the words out in response to what Dan had just told me. "They're saying TWENTY-SEVEN?" I stood with a mop in one hand, staring at the television, seeing but not comprehending.
I'd heard about the school shooting about an hour before, just before dropping off Ethan at school. I'd come home and started furiously scrubbing the bathroom while putting the TV on in the background. What a world we live in, that my heart would not completely stop just at the news of a school shooting. We hear these reports so often. Two people at a mall, someone takes down their boss at a workplace. But as I Windex-ed and swished our toilet bowl, the numbers were climbing. And worse, they were now talking about children. Many children.
Chores abandoned, I sank onto the couch, watching the local news teams report on the horror just an hour away, in a pretty little town I'd driven through a few times. Those reports morphed into national breaking news. Every update seemed worst than the last. I walked outside to throw something in our trash bin and was struck by that 9/11 feeling: the sky was too bright, the day so pleasant -- this couldn't be happening. This sunshine felt all wrong.
At three I needed to go pick up the kids at school. Eighteen to twenty kids, gone, kept rolling over and over in my head. My mind didn't want to imagine the number. My mind didn't want to try to see faces, and yet as I pulled into Anna's school, seeing children of course made it all real.
"I got Student of the Week!" Anna announced cheerily as she got into the car. I wanted to hug her but had to keep driving to keep the pick-up line moving. After congratulations and chatter about her day, I knew I wanted to tell her before she heard elsewhere. I kept the news basic with few details. Anna took it in with her usual stoicism when learning of tragic events. We moved on to Ethan's school.
Ethan's school. Pre-K through second graders. Hundreds of them who always come pouring out of the doors as I walk to get Ethan from the furthest front entrance. Don't cry now, I willed myself, watching them bop happily to their buses, some with backpacks half the size of their little bodies.
Inside the school there was the usual cheerful dismissal chaos. Mrs. M., the special ed teacher was there, watching the kids walk by. "I know you'll hug them all a little tighter tonight," she said, her voice breaking. Her eyes filled.
Outside again Ethan did his usual 20 minutes of wrestling with two friends over on the side of the school, under the trees. Ethan and his friend B. are both 5 now and kindergarten age. Most likely the same age as many of those lost. I tried to think of what it would be like for him not to come home, but my mind wouldn't let me. I was glad of that. I thought of our struggles and fears and disappointments and the roller coaster of the last few years and was reminded once again that a diagnosis is not the end of the world. I have my son.
At home we had to get ready for Anna's Christmas show that night. She'd been talking about it for weeks; so excited about having a solo and about it being "really good this year, mamma." I wanted to celebrate with her, yet something about it seemed surreal.
Just before we headed out the door, I talked to the mom of one of Anna's friends over Facebook. She was in shock. She'd just learned one of the children who died was the sister of one of her daughter's classmates back in preschool. Anna's preschool. She asked me if I remembered? Back when Anna was 4, I'd pick up Anna with Ethan in tow, and she'd pick up her daughter with her other little daughter along, and this mom would be there with her little girl, getting big brother. I looked back in my mind and could just remember.
That little one was gone now.
We pulled up to the school and I looked over at the preschool entrance where I used to get Anna. How could that have been four years ago now? Life was a wisp.
We gathered in the gym, parents and grandparents and squawking babies and chatty siblings. This being a Christian school, the principal started everyone out with a prayer for those in Newtown. I was glad we did. It didn't seem right not to.
And then, the kids. They were great. They were perfectly imperfect as they wobbled sweet solos and craned their necks to reach the microphone. The whole theme was that they were having a party, celebrating the savior's birth.
How do we party, at times like these? How can we be celebratory? I couldn't help but think, even as I sang and clapped along. Then the kids started singing Away in a Manger. Like most Christmas carols, I knew the first verse well but not the others.
For whatever reason, for some Reason, the kids sang the third verse at least three or four times. The words rang in my head and pierced my heart.
Be near me, Lord Jesus, I ask Thee to stay
Close by me forever, and love me, I pray;
Bless all the dear children in Thy tender care,
And fit us for Heaven to live with Thee there.
And in that moment, I could see them. I could see for a moment that those children no longer knew pain, or hurt, or sadness. We were the ones left behind with the wreckage. They were free. They were lost, but found.
And yes, this was the other part of the story, of Christmas for those who believe in the Jesus of Christmas.
We sing of Emmanuel, which means God with us. Christmas is of God coming to us, becoming like us, and partaking in our human sufferings, and giving us a hope beyond this broken world full of sin and suffering.
Even in our times of pain, when we don't feel like outwardly rejoicing, we can carry that in our hearts. We can express God's love to ease others' heartache.
The kids sang their last number and we clapped and cheered. Back home there was eggnog with the grandparents and the kids tucked in late in their snug footie pajamas. Late at night I still awoke, thinking about 20 children, thinking of parents unable to sleep, locked in a nightmare.
I don't have all the answers. None of us ever will. I am not the perfect Christian full of super-faith. I am a Doubting Thomas. I am the man who cried, "I believe -- help me with my unbelief!" But today, I cling to Hope, and I cling to Truth.
I hope you will, too.
Saturday, December 15, 2012
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Deb its beyond heartbreaking
How will those parents live :-(
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