Saturday, December 15, 2012

At Least I Bring You Hope

If I cannot bring you comfort
Then at least I bring you hope
For nothing is more precious
Than the time we have and so
We all must learn from small misfortune
Count the blessings that are real
Let the bells ring out for Christmas
At the closing of the year...

            Yesterday afternoon as I sat at my desk stapling papers during my planning block-stapling those last tests and exams that must be given and graded next week before school is dismissed for the holidays-I decided to check my Internet news feed to get a look at the weather forecast and see what was happening in the world. Most days I go from one class to another so quickly that I hardly have time to notice anything, and yesterday was no exception. Breaking down Julius Caesar for the tenth grade so they could prepare for Monday’s test, having a deep and serious discussion on The Screwtape Letters with the seniors, and then reading an abridged script of A Christmas Carol with the ninth graders that ended in great hilarity and delight, I was having a normal, albeit it rather noisy, school day. And then after lunch, after the usual banter with my students over chicken sandwiches and applesauce, I went back to my room to face the paperwork. Really, checking the weather was an excuse to procrastinate for five minutes. That was when I read about it-the horrible tragedy in Connecticut. A shooting at an elementary school that left 28 dead, including twenty children.

            There are no words, really, to describe how I felt. Sickened, dismayed, horrified, heartbroken-none of them seem adequate. I sent an email to my fellow teachers because, as busy as we all are, I didn’t know if any of them had heard about it yet. By the time the final bell rang an hour and a half later, many of the students had heard about it. They came by my room to talk to me and ask if I knew any details, which I didn’t. Their big question was, of course, why. Why would someone do such a horrible thing? I had no answer. I still don’t. And, while I know that this tragedy is going to open up a storm of debate about things like gun control and video games and the disintegration of the American family, all of which are valid concerns, I cannot think of much other than the human side.  

            I saw Barack Obama, admittedly not my favorite president, struggle to maintain his composure as he spoke about what had happened. He is, after all, a daddy. He loves his children. He is human .In times like these, it is our humanity that unites us .I do not know any of these families. I don’t know their names or their religious preferences or their nationalities or their political views. I don’t know if those children were well-behaved or drove their teachers crazy, whether their parents disciplined them or were permissive, whether they colored inside the lines or scribbled. I don’t know if they were rich or poor or in between, from traditional or non-traditional families, whether they had buckteeth or were chubby or wore glasses or had a penchant for stirring up a little mischief in the classroom. None of this matters, none of it matters at all. The one thing I am sure they all had in that they were loved.

            Maybe they were loved by a mom and dad who were still together and had never experienced the heartache of a broken home. Maybe they were loved by foster or adoptive parents, or struggling single moms, or grandparents who had been forced by bad circumstances to take on the raising of a grandchild. Maybe they had siblings who looked up to them if they were older, or who teased and protected them if they were younger. Maybe they had dogs and cats at home, or bunny rabbits, or hamsters. Maybe there were already lots of presents already bought for them, waiting to be placed under the tree or wrapped and sitting there tantalizingly. Or maybe Mom and Dad were waiting until another paycheck came, or hoping for a Christmas miracle if they were out of work. Perhaps some of them had new bikes and sleds and skates hidden away in a shed or garage or attic. I cannot know.

            Perhaps yesterday morning before school, some of them had to be sternly told to hurry up and finish breakfast and get dressed. Somebody probably spilled his milk and somebody probably complained about having to wear that ugly sweater and somebody probably just lost a tooth, or was about to lose one. And as they left, as they got onto the school bus or were dropped off by Mom or Dad or Grandma at the school doors, no one knew that that hasty hug, that “Have a good day; behave yourself”- that those would be the last things, the very last. Because the truth is that we never do know, that we never can know, and if we realized this every day, maybe we would be better to one another. Last night as I was grumbling about the horrible tangle of shoes and sweaters and schoolbooks thrown onto the dining room floor, I was struck by how I would feel if there was no chance of that mess being there again, ever. What if I got up in the night to look in on my children and then I remembered that those beds were now empty- carefully, perfectly made, every item in the room in place, never again to be used, worn, played with by those three irreplaceable pieces of my heart?

            Last night my girls sang so beautifully in the school choir, and I couldn’t look at them enough. This morning they are earning Christmas money by taking on the enormous task of cleaning the front room (if you could see our front room, you would understand why we consider this a task worthy of actual financial compensation).In this process, they will get mad at each other and their brother will have to put in his two cents and then they’ll get mad at him. Tomorrow we will be in a rush to get to Sunday school and I will probably yell at someone to hurry up, and at least one girl will be frustrated over her hair and I will become exasperated. But through it all we will still be a family, and we will not stay mad at each other. One of our household rules is that no one goes to bed angry or leaves the house angry .When I hear about things like yesterday’s nightmare, I am reminded of why we have that rule. I am also reminded of why those “small misfortunes” must be learned from and taken in stride. Our time is indeed precious.

            Christmas is ten days away. I pray for those families who will have an empty place at the table, presents that will never be opened by tiny eager hands, a hole in their lives now that makes the world seem a dark and empty place. In ten more days anything can happen, and I tell myself this not to be morbid or fearful, but to remind myself to be a little nicer, a little more forgiving, a little less easily frustrated. I remind myself to “count the blessings that are real” as I ask that God’s peace and comfort fill the hearts of those who have suffered a loss that I cannot fathom. I remind myself that “charity, forbearance, mercy”- all of these are “my business” and I best get on with it. And finally, I remind myself that we should always be as united in our humanity as we are when tragedy strikes-that, as a nation, even as a world created by God, we should be there to pray for and comfort one another, forgetting our differences and remembering only that we are all, at the heart of it, just people after all. Broken, hurting, needy people.

God bless the folks of Newtown, Connecticut-and God bless us all.

“We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years and each time I learn the news, I react not as a president, but as anybody else would, as a parent, and that was especially true today. I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.”- President Barack Obama

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