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An Act of Faith

I cried with Josh in the mall parking lot like an animal, a guttural cry from the back of the throat, turning my insides out until I could feel myself gagging.  It was our first time alone since we heard the news about Sandy Hook.

I woke up in the middle of the night between Friday and Saturday and had to untangle my brain at 2 am.  Had the shooting really happened?  Had it been a bad dream?  I truly didn’t know for a few minutes, couldn’t wake up enough to coherently know, and therefore just sat in the dark in a state of disbelief until my rational brain confirmed it.  I wasn’t wearing my wedding ring.  I had dropped it off in the afternoon to get it fixed.  The television had been on in the jewelry store.  They owner had turned off the news for us so the twins wouldn’t see.  It couldn’t be a dream because the ring was gone.

On Saturday morning, we opted to tell the twins what happened, a sanitized, lie-filled version.  We were worried that the rabbi at shul would say something during the service and we wanted to control the news.  “This could never ever happen at your school, but we wanted you to understand why adults may be sad today.”

I told them each separately while I helped them get dressed after their shower.  “Did children die?” each child asked in disbelief.  Do you remember how innocent they were a few years ago when we first broached the topic of death, and you guys helped me through that conversation?  Back when you had to be over 100 to die or stop eating or get hit by a car.  And then we added cancer.  And finally they learned this weekend that there are people who use guns to kill other people.  Not in a war zone.  But here.  In a school.  And yes, children died.

In 2009, I said, “And I had to answer yes because I don’t make promises that I can’t keep.”

And then yesterday, I lied.  I lied while looking them right in the eye and told them they were safe.  And I held that lie in my heart all day, letting it wobble inside the ventricles and atria, flowing out through my body in the blood until the lie was even in the fingertips I was using to push their hair from the twins’ foreheads.

That night, we went out, leaving the twins behind with their grandparents so we could run errands.  We were talking about vegetarianism, and while it’s something I rarely talk about — and to be frank, rarely think about — I found myself passionately explaining to Josh why I don’t eat meat.  I don’t eat meat because I don’t just believe that you shouldn’t seethe a kid in his mother’s milk; I personally cannot partake in consuming another being’s child, even if that being is technically part of the food chain.  Even if it’s found to be true that the mother animal has no ability to comprehend that her child has been taken away.  I know, I understand, even if that cow doesn’t.  And I won’t take part in that.

As we pulled into the parking lot, I felt everything come out; the guilt from the lie and moreover the grief from the lie, the truth that replaces that lie.  There is no place on earth, including a home, that is completely safe.  I can do everything in my power to cradle their life, and still, our best efforts will never be perfect, will never be able to keep everything at bay.  I cried because there were mothers separated from their children, and they know, they understand.

There were parents who had sent their children to school and their children hadn’t come home; would never come home.  I couldn’t believe there was no rewind, no re-do, no chance to repair the damage and bring those people back.  There was nothing we could do to fix this; only things we could do for other children moving forward.  And that grief, that we couldn’t undo, that this was broken for some families beyond repair was too much to consider while we sat in the parking lot finally alone.

I asked Josh how I send them to school on Monday, and he replied that sending our children to school has always been an act of faith.  That the act of faith was the same on Friday as it will be on Monday, that our children are no more in danger tomorrow than they were last week.  We are just more aware of that act of faith, the fact that we make it.  I haven’t decided if I’m sending them Monday.  I’ll do what I need to do in the moment (which has been the philosophy that always gets me through things).  Monday is not what I’m worried about.  It’s Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday, it’s making that act of faith again and again for eternity.

We all need to take that leap daily; to leave the house (or frankly, even to stay in the house).  To trust that we’ll return.

There is no point to this post.  But I had to write it anyway.  I have to keep giving myself an outlet to cry again and again.  This isn’t something that can be released in a single moment; walked away from unchanged.  I don’t want to read about it, don’t want to think about it, and yet there is nothing else happening inside my brain.

22 comments

1 clare { 12.16.12 at 7:54 am }

It is an act of faith.. that 99.9999999% of the time brings good things. Great things. Friends. Confidence. New words and ways of viewing the world.

And there is no way Monday morning won’t be a huge moment for all of parents of school age kids. I’ll be thinking of you on Monday morning… and all the parents.

This whole event reminds me of one of the tenets of my family. My parents didn’t want to have kids. Not because they didn’t want kids, they just didn’t want to bring them into such a dark world. My grandma, who had lived through 3 wars, had her dad hauled away in the middle of the night during a revolution, had lost nieces to war time starvation, and she just read about a school shooting in their local small town of Olean, NY, well she sat them down and set them straight. She said the world has always been a dangerous place and that was no excuse not to live in it as generations before have done.

And those were the words that convinced my parents to take a risk and bring us into the world. This has been the one tenet that my family hold dear. You get another dog after you grieve the one that died. You date again after breakups. You get in a car after a car crash. If it is something you value, like love and education, you do it even though now you can better imagine just how much you are risking, you do it or you lose everything. And yet that is so hard to do. I don’t always live up to the tenet, but I always hear my strong and brave grandma’s words in my mind. The world is a dangerous place, and yet there is still so much joy and wonder to be found in the good days we get.

2 Ordinary Girl { 12.16.12 at 7:55 am }

I don’t have much of a point to this comment either, except to say that I’m there with you. I can’t bear to hear many more details and yet it consumes my thoughts. As a teacher and a parent, I keep thinking about and replaying it from so many angles. Bean isn’t old enough for school yet and I wasn’t sure how I could ever possibly send her before this. I feel like we do need faith but we need change as well. This certainly isn’t the world I imagined for her.

3 sushigirl { 12.16.12 at 8:27 am }

I think the murderer wanted to create fear and havoc, and that if people start keeping their kids home, that trust in your society breaks down to the extent that schools are a place to be feared, then he and others like him will have won. Although I realise that’s easy for me to say, posting from far away.

4 Anon { 12.16.12 at 8:58 am }

Thank you for posting this.
I have been sick over this and torn on how to handle talking to my children. My oldest is 10 and my youngest 7, almost 8. I feared if I didn’t tell them something, they would hear a different version on Monday at school or on the school bus. My son also saw a newspaper cover in a store on Saturday.
I lied also, I said they would always be safe.

I have been gutted by this. Afraid for them to go on Monday.
Never has a weekend went by when I was so grateful for every mundane thing.

Thanks again for sharing this.

5 serenity { 12.16.12 at 9:28 am }

I love your husband. He’s right, you know: we are just more aware of everything as an act of faith.

I have done nothing but think of Newtown this weekend myself. Lots of love to you.

xoxo

6 Queenie { 12.16.12 at 9:55 am }

Me too.

7 Chickenpig { 12.16.12 at 11:33 am }

I am deathly afraid of sending my kids to school on Monday. I live in a small town in CT, it is peaceful and beautiful and all that noise, but like a lot of small towns, it has a dark place in its heart. There are a lot of people in pain here, there are a lot of guns, there is a history of strange violence. (a man who drove around with his girl friend’s head in his car. Do you remember seeing that in the news?) The CT news reporters keep talking about the Newton massacre as the “second biggest mass shooting in US history” with a troubling gleam in their eye. I am afraid of someone going for number one. Someone is going to hear those words as a challenge. Until the tension of the holidays is over I’m not sure if I want to go to the movies, go to the mall, or send my kids anywhere. When I saw the news about the mall shooting I told my husband “I was so afraid that there were going to be like 50 dead…something BAD is going to happen.” I wish I could say that that feeling has gone away, but it hasn’t. I think we should all be like rabbits and scatter underground for a little while. And for G-d’s sake, the media needs to SHUT UP.

8 Melissa G { 12.16.12 at 12:31 pm }

Thank you for this post. Your last line about how you don’t want to read or hear about it, but can’t think of anything else, is EXACTLY how I’m feeling. This is the first time I’ve been on my lap top since thursday night. I read the news on my phone on Friday, and haven’t been able to read much since. But I knew this would be a safe place to read. And even though the topic was broached, the expression of grief is shared. And that is all I can handle right now. No more details than sorrow.

9 Battynurse { 12.16.12 at 1:54 pm }

Very well written post. While I don’t have the fear of sending children off to school, the reality of this is that it can happen any where. Even a hospital. That’s why we have emergency drills and procedures in place for what if. Every day can be a leap of faith. A difficult one some days though.

10 Pie { 12.16.12 at 2:07 pm }

Thank you (and Josh too) for framing it like this. It IS an act of faith to move forward, faith in our fellow humans, that we are all seeking the same good things for ourselves, for our loved ones. I guess the problem I’m then having with all of this is I suck at faith. I can’t do faith very well at all. Never could. Maybe that’s why I’m struggling so much with this tragedy, more so than others that have come and gone. I lack the faith.

11 caitsmom { 12.16.12 at 2:09 pm }

Ah, but there is a point . . . to share your reflections and connect with others. Thank you. This statement brought fresh tears to my eyes . . . “And finally they learned this weekend that there are people who use guns to kill other people. Not in a war zone. But here. In a school. And yes, children died.” (((hugs))) for all parents who grieve and worry and wonder and [[[[strength]]]] to those who work tirelessly to make schools safe for children.

12 Lori Lavender Luz { 12.16.12 at 4:55 pm }

For various reasons, I haven’t yet had This Talk with my kids — we have been mercifully sheltered somewhat.

I plan to tell them that there is more than one way to lose a life. One is to have it taken away, and the other is to surrender it to fear.

Your husband is so wise. {{{{{{{{{{{{{{Lollipop}}}}}}}}}}}}}}}

13 Augusta { 12.16.12 at 5:15 pm }

How to continue acting on Faith, when one’s Faith has been shaken to the core. I guess this is the central question of your excellent, most honest post. How to have enough faith to send your children to school on Tuesday, on Wednesday, on Thursday, and all the days after that? I’m not sure. I don’t have children yet, although hopefully this is going to change in March. But coming into the awareness, an awareness we cannot tolerate for very long periods of time, that we are all tethered to life by only a very thin thread is overwhelming. What happened on Friday forces us to look at this truth.

That being said, I think it is an adult truth, and not one that children need to come into contact with, unless forced by circumstances. I understand that it feels wrong to lie to your children. And I understand that your instincts as a mother are so strong that you knew the full truth was not for them. Not for now.

I continue to cry with each news bulletin, each article in the paper, each blog post about Newtown. I cannot imagine those parents still waiting for their children to come home from school.

14 a { 12.16.12 at 6:36 pm }

It never occurred to me to worry about my daughter and her school, because apparently, I do have enough faith in fellow humans. Or awareness of my lack of ability to control everything. I had issues with not having any idea what was going on at school. But I had to come to terms with it because I have to go to work and I can’t spend all my time volunteering at the school.

This is one of the most horrible things I can think of. I’ve heard of enough incidents at malls and movie theaters that they don’t have the same sense of security for me. But schools? I’ve been choking back tears all weekend.

BTW, Josh is a very smart man. Does he always know the right thing to say?

15 loribeth { 12.16.12 at 8:17 pm }

There just are no words. How to explain to children, when we can’t explain it to ourselves?

I worry about the one little girl who survived when all her classmates died. What is the rest of her life going to be like?

16 Astral { 12.16.12 at 9:35 pm }

I can’t stop crying. I keep thinking how unfair it is that for these families their children are gone forever. How are these parents going to go on? Their children were babies. I am so sad for all involved.

17 Alexicographer { 12.16.12 at 10:00 pm }

@Mel, I think it is OK, even good, to tell your kids you will always keep them safe. I was talking today with a friend who is a teacher about how to talk to my kindergartener son and what to tell him and she was commenting on how (not to downplay the other aspects of this) children believe they are immortal and while we often despair of this, especially as they reach the teenage years (and having step-parented teenagers I can vouch for that), it does serve an important purpose in terms of the younger ones. And in that sort of context … I think really it is fine to tell them they will be safe and you will keep them safe. No, it is not something you can truly guarantee and thus, it is a lie, I guess. But it is not one of those things they need to know is not true.

I guess one could say, “We will always do everything we can to keep you safe,” making it not a lie.

Still mulling on all of this, as you can tell. And I haven’t told my son a thing yet.

18 Justine { 12.17.12 at 12:40 am }

I have had a hard time putting my son on the bus many, many times since September for reasons that may never be clear to me. And even though he doesn’t seem at all perturbed by it (I had a short version of The Talk with him and told him if he wanted to talk more about it he needed only to ask), tomorrow it will be more difficult than ever. Because I just. Don’t. Know.

Your post made me think about one I wrote in August, about the promises we make to children about their safety, after I assured Lori’s daughter she was safe in NYC, after telling her my story about being mugged: http://ahalfbakedlife.blogspot.com/2012/08/promises-promises.html … and then what I wrote in September about my son’s trust in a stranger when he gets on the bus … http://ahalfbakedlife.blogspot.com/2012/09/trust.html … there’s that saying about parenting being a decision to let your heart go forever walking outside of your body … and it does come down to a constant act of faith.

I can think of little else but Newtown. Even though I know, as someone pointed out to me today, that there are babies gunned down every day in urban areas and unstable countries. But I also know that tomorrow I will put my son on the bus, and give thanks for every teacher and staff member willing to take their own leaps of faith, willing to walk back into their schools and classrooms, and create the safest places they can for our children.

19 luna { 12.17.12 at 1:36 am }

I can’t stop thinking about it — the children, their families, the teachers. I’ve lost myself more in the anguish of grief than even the fear for my own children. this is so unfathomable, so incomprehensible. so senseless. if I let the fear in — of such a random senseless act of violence — it would turn to terror and be immobilizing.

you tell the lie because it is your only truth. your children need to feel safe even when we can’t know if they are. we need to feel safe even when such terrifyingly inhumane acts could target those we love at any moment. it’s how we have to go on. surrendering to the fear would be madness.

20 luna { 12.17.12 at 1:37 am }

and josh is right on, too.

21 Katie { 12.17.12 at 1:38 pm }

I’m with you, Mel. I wanted to put K in my purse this morning and sneak her into work. I was so upset about having to take her to daycare that I made Joey do it.

I hate this. I just don’t know what else to do or say. I’m heartbroken.

22 Kathy { 12.18.12 at 1:24 am }

Yes, it is a leap of faith.

This whole nightmare is so heartbreaking and hard to wrap my brain around.

We had the talk to0. Thank you for sharing about yours and how you are doing.

When things like this happen I often come to your blog to see if you have written about it. More often than not, you have. I find comfort in that. So thank you. xoxo

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