The sea rises, the light fails, lovers cling to each other and children cling to us. The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out. — James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time
It seems like nothing will ever be the same again, or possibly even OK again. Last Friday’s social media threads were filled with people anxiously updating their pages, desperately trying to seek out and disseminate the most current information as if typing it and hitting send would somehow make it easier. It didn’t. This event was the greatest leveler our nation has experienced since 9/11.
Many people were frantic for names, ages and images of victims and the perpetrators; their families. Much like the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, many mothers jumped in their cars and cried the whole way to pick up their students at schools early, driven by powerful tides of primitive maternal yearning to fill their empty embrace with their babies’ warmth.
For the first hour, we were all One People, dwelling together in a collective of Universal Anguish. Before the final death toll was even reported, a surprising amount of gun-rights enthusiasts were already posting angry defenses of Second Amendment rights (in my humble opinion, that was tasteless). By 2 p.m., many left the Collective to post memes on mental health rights, arguing over video games, abortion, religion in schools, and gun rights/death statistics.
We prayed over the weekend. We prayed for insight. We prayed for peace. We prayed for understanding, justice, strength and more. We prayed for the souls of the innocents, and for those who offered up their lives protecting them. We prayed for the families. We prayed for the faculty, staff, school, community and whole town. We prayed to turn back the hands of time. We prayed to be relieved of our new reality. We prayed not to be corrupted by the media this time (though no one knew exactly how to prevent that). Images of angels and softly burning candles, and the faces of children, still with their baby teeth, smiling brightly flooded social media and the news. Rather than bashing teachers and schools for their spending and other shortcomings, we were returned to a place of gratitude for those who take care of our children. My friend Laura is a kindergarten teacher; she reminded me how often you see a kindergarten teacher walking with her little students bunched up around her, as if trying to shield them in a protective bubble. “Do you ever notice when watching a kindergarten teacher cross the street with her class, she stands directly in the middle of the road?” Laura questioned. “Kindergarten teachers have the natural yearning to protect your child, even at the expense of their own lives. I was one of those teachers that would have risked my own life for those of the kids in my class.” And she’s right.
More than ever, holiday shopping felt empty, meaningless. Anything and everything that did not directly involve being close with my kids seemed blank, hollow and devoid. Throughout the weekend, every child’s smile reminded me of those stolen by Evil.
Just when we all felt that we were at the fringe of our personal budgets and suffering “compassion fatigue” — having little-to-no patience to donate even one more penny, to even one more cause, no matter how tremendous — then, this happened.
I don’t know about you, but if I could donate my next three paychecks to make even one mother’s pain subside for two milliseconds, I would do it in a heartbeat.
How these families could ever watch their kids walk out the door for school ever again is beyond me. Some of those families might not even have other children, besides the one they lost. How can anyone, including me, ever let our kids out of our sights into this big, bad and now even more terrifying world, ever again?
Monday morning came, and it was time to send them off to school. My teenager got on the bus first, and it wasn’t until I watched her long, blond ponytail swish behind her that I felt a deep pang to block the door, lock her in and situate her within a glowing circle of 12 attending angels to keep her safe. Next was my elementary-aged son, my youngest baby of three, and I buckled. “I don’t want you to get on the bus,” I said, my tears welling, wringing my hands, knees trembling. He didn’t really get it, and was pumped to skip the long, boring bus ride. “Oh cool, you’re gonna drive me then?!” The tears rolled.
Carrie Jones Ross is a writer for Kingston Times.