Every weekday morning Matt and I go through the same routine of getting Theo up and fed and dressed, making sure that he’s ready for another day at daycare. Every morning I kiss him goodbye, and, if I’m lucky, I get to hear him tell me that he loves me. He doesn’t really know what that means, of course, but he knows that it’s something that we say to each other, something that makes people smile. He knows that I like to hear it.
Every morning I watch Matt push Theo’s stroller out the front door and down the sidewalk, and I feel good, because I know he’s safe. He’s safe with Matt, and he’ll be safe at daycare. I know that I won’t have to worry about him all day long; I will be able to devote all (well, most) of my thoughts to yoga, writing, and all of the daily tasks that are part of managing a yoga studio. I can focus on things like drafting invoices, digging through endless paperwork, and updating our studio website and blog.
I don’t worry about Theo because his daycare is a good one. We chose it carefully, after polling local friends for recommendations and doing exhaustive online searches for ratings and reviews. Theo loves his daycare, and I know that the staff and other kids there love him. He’s always excited to be dropped off in the morning, running into his room without even a kiss goodbye for Matt, and in the evening he often doesn’t want to leave.
It would never occur to me that daycare wasn’t a safe place for him.
Just like it almost certainly didn’t occur to parents in Newtown, Connecticut to think of their children’s school as an unsafe place for them.
As you’ve probably heard, 27 people were killed in a shooting today at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
At least 20 of those people were children.
An entire classroom is still unaccounted for.
Although there isn’t much information available, sources are saying that most of the shootings took place in a kindergarten classroom.
Why on earth would someone want to shoot five year olds?
This is the kind of thing that my brain has a hard time processing. Less than two weeks before Christmas, 20 families have lost a young child; countless other families will spend the holidays in the hospital with sons and daughters who are fighting for their lives or else enduring tedious, painful recoveries. I don’t know why the fact that it’s nearly Christmas, and the fact that tonight is the 7th night of Hanukkah, makes this tragedy seem, if possible, even more devastating, but somehow it does.
Maybe because I can’t help thinking about those 20 families, and how every December from now on they’ll have to watch the world around them celebrate while they are forced to confront painful memories of their child’s death. I can’t help imagining how every time they decorate a tree or light a menorah, they will have to think about that one person who isn’t there to hang ornaments or add their voice to the blessings sung as the candles are lit. Every time they draw up a shopping list for holiday gifts, they’ll notice that one name is conspicuously absent. Every festive meal will have one chair empty. The holidays will never not be a time of death and mourning for them.
What is especially awful is how commonplace mass shootings are starting to seem. You start to wonder if you have room in your heart and your mind to remember all of the victims, regular, every-day people who went to school, or the mall, or a movie theatre and thought that they were safe. You start to wonder if anyone is ever really safe, and then realize that you can’t live your life thinking that way. You start to build walls, emotionally and mentally, as a form of self-protection. You don’t think about it because you can’t; after the initial shock, you try hard to forget, knowing all the while how lucky you are to be able to do so, while others have to live through constant reminders of what they’ve lost.
In the days to come, there will be a lot of talk about gun control; people who are for it, and people who are against it. The NRA will issue its typical statement, something along the lines of, It’s not guns that kill people, people kill people. Conservatives will talk about the second amendment. Liberals will be told not to “exploit” this tragedy to further their own agenda; they’ll be shut down with cries of, Today is not the day to talk about gun control.
As a friend of mine said today on Facebook, those people are right. Today is not the day to talk about gun control. That day passed many years and many homicides ago.
Gun-related violence is a problem, one that is only growing worse. How is it exploitative to look at a tragedy like this, dissect it, and try to figure out how to prevent it in the future? How is it exploitative to point out that, without a semi-automatic pistol, the shooter would not have been able to injure or kill nearly so many people? How is it exploitative to wonder what laws need to change in order for something like this to never, ever happen again?
And yeah, you can say that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, but there’s no way that a guy with a knife or a sword or a bow and arrow would have been able to create this kind of tragedy.
I’m glad that Theo is still so young, because that means that I won’t have to try to explain this to him. I can hold him close, and cover him in kisses, and cry quietly into his hair without him wondering why; at not-quite-two, I’m sure he’ll just write it off as another weird mom thing. And if he does happen to notice that I’m not really myself right now, well, he’ll be able to forget about it soon enough. Sadly, there’s a part of me that wonders how soon it will be until I can forget about it, too.
But forgetting makes it easier to avoid having to deal with what’s happened. It makes it easier not to ask the difficult questions, or make difficult decisions. Forgetting means that we don’t have to change anything, that we don’t have to be confronted with this kind of rage and sorrow until the next shooting happens.
Forgetting guarantees that this will happen again.
And to anyone who thinks that I’m trying to take their rights away from them, I’ve got news for you: I’m not.
I just want all of our kids to be safe in all of the places where they should be safe. They deserve that much, at the very least.