Monday, December 17, 2012

When He Read Their Names.

We sat and watched as he read their names.

The kitchen was a sugary mess, the house thick with the aroma of the fudge and bon bons my wife and daughters had been baking, when the president came on TV.

And he read their names. All twenty of them.

There was Dylan and Emilie, there was Olivia and Noah, kids whose first and last names were probably scrawled by their teacher in neat black printing on cards that sat taped down to their desks, each waiting to unite with a real person on that electric first day of school.

Some had probably been drawn on a little by now, doodled with pencils or crayons or maybe speckled with a little Elmer's School Glue.

And as awful as I felt, it wasn't until President Obama uttered their names that I felt such an untapped, overwhelming sorrow.

I looked over at my seventeen-year-old daughter, perched on one of her favorite vantage points, a large exercise ball. At that moment I didn't see a full grown young woman about to step into adulthood.

Instead, I was looking at a seven-year-old tomboy wearing a blue denim jumper and white tights that betrayed the outline of a band-aid taped to her knee. Rather than a head of neatly brushed hair pulled back in a ponytail, it was the tangled rat's nest of a kid who'd spent an entire day playing in the mud puddles and wood chips of her school playground. No mirrors out there, Dad. Geez.

As we huddled together in our small family room, my twelve-year-old took on the appearance not of the beautiful girl a hundred days from becoming a teenager, but a six-year-old cutie pie with rosy cheeks and no front teeth, determined to persuade us that her favorite dress wasn't too dirty to wear again this week.

I looked at my wife, herself an elementary school teacher. Seen from my perspective, her raw grief convinced me not only of a capacity, but a willingness to place herself between one of her students and a bullet.

I couldn't help but summon the words an ignorant person once coined: "Those who can't...teach." Really? Tell that to the parents of the kids who lived.

In the past when I've felt this vulnerable, I've typically followed the same pattern of rooting out the easy answers. I convince myself that if we get rid of the handguns and assault rifles, if we require mental health assessments for gun ownership, if we make firearm possession a privilege rather than a right, maybe the insanity will stop.

Maybe that's true. Maybe it isn't.

Hug your family.

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