Saturday, December 15, 2012
It was with shock that I learned about the Connecticut Elementary School shootings yesterday. While still at work, I saw an early news feed about a shooting in an elementary school where they reported that one person was dead. I said a little prayer for the families involved, but I have to admit I didn't give it too much thought. There have been so many shootings around our country this year, it seemed like a tragic, isolated event. Later, at a department store in Columbia, Jessica called to ask me if I had heard the news. The death count at that point was in the 20's. Standing in the store looking at all the Christmas decorations and watching the crowd bustle around, the scene was almost surreal. Suddenly shopping for the perfect Christmas gift didn't seem so important. As I made my way to check out, I overheard several conversations, some by shoppers on their cell phone. People were angry, people were sad, people kept asking questions such as "How did he get in the school?", "Why would anyone want to kill those small children?" "Did they get him?" And then the question that I have heard many times in the last 12 hours, "What is this world coming to?"
There seemed to be a buzz in the air at the store, and not the usual shopping before the holiday, I have to get this done today buzz. People were visibly upset. I shortened my shopping trip and headed home. I had lost my desire and drive to buy anything.
How could this be? How is it possible that anyone could take powerful weapons and unload on innocent children? And go to the children's safe place of learning and friendship and destroy the trust and innocence of all those children? At the top of this blog, I posted a recent photo of my favorite little people, taken shortly after the school year started. Maddison is a second grader at a school in our small town. Mason is a kindergartner in the same school. The school keeps the doors locked and uses a buzzer system to screen people before they enter. Mason, who now wears the cutest little glasses you have ever seen, is learning site words and "holiday" songs. He has a Superhero lunchbox and backpack, which he hangs on a hook every day, right under his name. He has a girlfriend, but won't share her name with us. He gets sad when his friends get "think sheets", and even more sad when he sometimes gets one. He beams from cute little ear to cute little ear when he brings home an award or a good note from his teacher. He looks forward to seeing his friends every day, to playing at recess, to painting at art and to learning all he can to keep up with his big sister. In the hall, as is the school rule, he uses his pointer finger as a Mr. Wiggle to greet his friends so the school halls will stay quiet.
Maddison is the "senior" at the same school. She will move on to a new school next year, but this year she is in 2nd grade (and she whispered to me the other day that she has loved all her teachers, but she REALLY loves her teacher this year). She takes care of her little brother the best she can. She tried her hardest to prepare him for life at this school, but he sometimes wanders away from her advice. She works very hard to catch up with a certain little boy in "rocket math". She comes in second to him each week, but she is still very proud each time she reaches a new level. She has gotten awards for excellence in art, good behavior and reading. She just performed with the bell choir, and had to handle two hand bells and sheet music because several children were ill the day of the performance. She loves to show her family around the school and point out her artwork on the walls.
I sometimes have the pleasure to pick up the kids after school. Four school staff take GREAT care in making sure each child gets in the car they are supposed to. Last week I was reflecting on how different this process is than when my children were in elementary school. My children went to elementary school before Columbine, Virginia Tech and now Newtown. The bell would ring and out would pour the 300 children. Some to buses, some walking, some getting in with their parents or caregivers. Those simple, innocent days are gone. What hasn't changed is the broad smiles and the loaded backpacks that greet me when I arrive at the school. The rush to share the day's events, both good and bad. I remember similar conversations when Jessica and Josh were attending East Park School.
Maddison and Mason are like the millions of other elementary children in our country. They go to school every day. They have their routines, their joys, their sorrows. They expect to be cared for, treated fairly and allowed to enjoy their lunch. They know they will have assignments to do, but that there will also be time for friendship and fun. They feel safe. They don't worry about someone hurting them or the teachers they love.
This morning as I write this, I have questions burning in my mind. First, I wonder and worry if what happened in Newtown will forever change the landscape of our schools for our youngest children? How is it possible to keep our children safe when someone loaded with fire power is determined to kill them? Randy and I discussed ways the schools could tighten security, but each way seemed very breach-able. Even if the schools are locked down, the children still go out for recess. Will all the schools have to put up privacy fences?
But the question I can't stop asking is how can anyone go into a school, where the walls are lined with drawings of rainbows and butterflies, where the hooks are filled with colorful backpacks and lunchboxes, where the little desks and tables are filled with children who raise their hands to be line leaders and open fire on them with loaded guns? Could the shooter not see the pink bows in the little girls hair and the Spiderman ring on the little boys fingers? Couldn't he tell that the children had on their school shoes so they could run the fastest at recess? Didn't he know that the class would be working on site words or practicing rocket math? How could he close his eyes to the children, their trusting faces and their bright futures. How?
I pray for those families and for all the children in our country.