During the last week of school before Winter break, way across the country, dozens of children were gunned down at their elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. A couple of days later my family and I flew off to sunny beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula for a family vacation, but we could not totally avoid the unfolding story, as every TV turned on in restaurants and bars in the bustling tourist town in which we were staying, were reporting on the gruesome events. Upon our return to California from Mexico the following week, the events in Newtown took a back stage as we experienced a death in our own family. We just came back to Los Angeles in time for our children to start the new semester this past Monday and at first it didn’t register in my mind why there was a police car parked in front of the school. I was pulled back into the new normal of fear when it was explained to me that the police officer stationed there was not on the look-out for parking violators, but was part of a new local safety campaign initiated in reaction to Newtown. Since I have a blog about school issues, I know I should probably write about this atmosphere, but dealing with the recent grief over the loss of our own loved-one, I seem to be at a loss for words today.
However, two of my close friends, who are excellent writers, have already beautifully written about their feelings that were provoked by the tragic events in December. I would like to share their stories. The first one is by Gabrielle Kaufman, which I include with her permission.
Broken Dreams of Safety
Today, January 7, 2013, I dropped my son off at school for his first day back to first grade after winter break. The Friday of his last day of school on December 14, 2012, was a day many of us remember with horror. 27 murdered. 20 first graders slain. While my child sang, “Mele Kelikimaka” at the holiday show at his school, some first graders from another school never came home. The day for them started out just as ours did, but ended in devastation.
Today, the principal tried to comfort us. “From now on the gates will be locked all day. Police will visit campus daily.” But, I look at his beautiful school, surrounded by exposed fences, and I am less than comforted. As I walk past the police officer, I feel no ease, but rather the sick realization that this is only a weak attempt to pacify our anxiety. I don’t blame the principal, the police officer, nor the LAUSD superintendent. No one can allay our fears today. Because what happened in Newtown was not supposed to happen. It was not the result of lax security. It was the stuff of our deepest nightmares.
During this winter break, my first grader turned 7. My heart ached for the mothers who would not be able to celebrate their child’s 7th birthday. Those mothers were robbed of 20 mischievous smiles, whiny frowns, snuggly mornings, and sugared up frenzies. The innocence of my son’s youth, as we celebrated one more year of his life, was more poignant this year, a bitter sweetness. I grasped to capture his essence, trying to make up for the loss of so many others.
Attempting to make sense of this tragedy is like believing that our children are safe because a police officer makes a symbolic visit and the school gates are locked all day. The reality is harsh and cold: we can love and protect our children only so much, and then they go out to the world. We want to believe that our world is full of wonder and beauty. But, excruciatingly we learn, it is also filled with horrors.
As I drive away from campus, my heart is suspended. I place my right palm on my cheek. My 7 year old kissed my hand this morning and asked me to hold his kiss all day. If only I could hold him and keep him truly safe.
The second piece is by friend and fellow blogger – Amy Levinson, whose own personal health issues were put into perspective by the events in Newton. Read “How One’s Life is Defined,” in her blog pairofgenes.com
I hope to resume my own writing soon. Thank you Gabrielle and Amy for finding the words.
May 2012 bring peace to all of you, your friends and families.