Sunday, December 16, 2012

Car Wrecks and School Shootings

Written Dec. 15, 2012

Almost one year ago to the day, I totaled my car as I drove my children home from an appointment. Traveling on a rainy freeway, I hydroplaned, spun out and crashed into the center divider. In the moment, the shock and disbelief of it all kept the incident from being too frightening. Until I heard my kids shrieking in pure panic. I turned and saw my daughter, her eyes huge with terror, screaming. Then the fear slapped me. My children are in danger, I thought. My children are not safe. They could have been killed. Gone. In the blink of an eye. One minute we were talking about ice cream, the next, slamming into concrete. It all nearly changed that quickly.

Paramedics arrived, and a trip to the hospital followed. After a long, long day of tests and observation, we were all allowed to walk out of the hospital with very minor injuries. It was nothing shy of a miracle. The head of trauma surgery at the hospital reiterated how lucky we were. Amen to that.

The next morning, sore and bruised, I awoke to the sounds of my children laughing and playing in the family room with their dad. For a split second, I knew I was still dreaming. I knew I had lost my children in the accident the day before. I knew this was the first day of hell, the first day without my heart and soul.

But then I fully woke up, and realized my reality was not that hell, but the opposite. Pure paradise. My children were safe, healthy, alive. And in the next room. I cried tears of relief and sheer gratitude.


All day yesterday, I remembered that moment of utter joy when I realized my nightmare was not my truth. And I physically ached for those parents at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., who were violently thrown into their own nightmares after a 20-year-old shooter terrorized the school and violently killed 20 children and six adults. Twenty children. All of them ages 6 and 7. My daughter's age. Kids just like my daughter. Just like her school friends. Kids who ate cereal for breakfast and looked forward to making gingerbread houses, who sported bows in their hair and shoes littered with scuff marks from hours of playground antics. Kids who wanted Legos from Santa and a dollar from the Tooth Fairy. Kids who bore the stamp of innocence and joy. Kids who would not be going home that afternoon, or ever again.

I couldn't get their images out of my head. Tiny little kids with the world ahead of them. Kids who were just like my daughter.

As a journalist, I was unable to turn away from the news coverage. I digested every update, each revelation in this constantly changing and confusing story. But as a parent, I yearned to stick my fingers in my ears, close my eyes and pretend none of this ever happened. The shooting of innocent children can't even be classified as a tragedy. It's an abomination, an act of evil so pure it's demonic. The journalist in me cried out for answers as to why the shooter did this, but the mother in me didn't want to know why. There is no answer that will suffice, no answer that will ever explain it all. And I don't want to live in a world where something this sinister can be easily explained.

I cried with President Obama—usually the "consoler in chief" in times of national tragedy— as he addressed the media. Never before have I seen a president display such emotion, and never have I seen this president give up his trademark silver-lining speech in light of mass tragedies; instead he adopted a weary, shocked and grief-laden tone, which made things even more grim. He said that these children "had their entire lives ahead of them -- birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own." And now, that's all gone. All of it. That gunman took it all away. Not just from those 20 children, but from their families and the entire community as well. One half-hour on a Friday morning in December ruined countless lives and changed a nation.

I counted the minutes until I could pick my daughter up from kindergarten. Getting to her fast enough was my main concern. Never have my arms physically ached to hold her as they did yesterday. When I arrived at her classroom, I felt more excitement than I did picking her up after her first day of kindergarten. I grabbed her tight, holding my son in one arm and my daughter in the other. I breathed in the scent of her hair, felt her smooth cheek against my palm, laughed as she ran off to chase her friend. Today would not be a day for scolding or cranky answers. Today was a day for cuddling on the couch and ice cream, for staying up late and eating French toast for dinner. For thanking God over and over for these little ordinary treasures like silly "poop" jokes and sounds of "Mommy, I love you."

I imagined over and over again what those parents felt as they received calls from the school, rushed to the chaotic scene, waited in agony to receive news about their children. And then receiving the worst news of their lives. The day those children were born, no one could have ever imagined their lives only had a six- or seven-year window. No parent, gazing into her newborn's squished and rosy face, would ever think a madman could snuff out the brilliant life just now beginning its journey. And at the second safest place they know: school.

And yet, that's exactly what happened. My mind bucks at this reality, refusing to accept it.

Parents across the nation felt unbelievably shaken and eroded as news of the Sandy Hill shooting permeated the media. As the president said, he absorbed the events not as the commander in chief, but as a parent. I did not view the scene with a journalist's trained eye, but with a mother's heart. I thanked God four dozen times in an hour for letting my girl enjoy an average, safe school day. I felt icy fingers of fear poke my gut as I considered how easy it would be for a travesty like the Sandy Hill shooting to happen in our own backyard. I prayed for those parents.  I questioned how in the world this could have happened in the first place. It hit the trifecta of terror: random shooting, elementary school children and 11 days before Christmas. The pain is an abyss felt by parents nation-wide, but especially and unthinkably by the parents of the slain 20.

As the news continues to unfold and the victims' names are released, we learn more about the children who were killed…and the teachers who did their best to protect them. Ever since I walked my daughter to preschool on that first day, I knew I was entrusting that teacher with the most precious creature in the universe. I am sure all good teachers feel this burden and are empowered by it. It seems many of the Sandy Hook instructors were, as they died protecting their students or risked their own lives to do so.

This morning, I woke up and enjoyed a peaceful half-minute before I remembered what happened. Yet on the heels of that crushing realization came bliss. Bliss that my children were in the family room, laughing and playing with their father. That nightmare was not my reality. There is evil in this world, there is injustice and there is darkness. But for today, I grabbed hold to the ray of light found in my children's laughter. That gave me hope and strength to send off as a prayer to those parents in Newtown, who will forever be changed, and who will forever be in our hearts.

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