It’s less than two weeks before Christmas, a time when the pressure on parents to think about how they can fulfill their children’s wishes and dreams mounts apace. It’s a time of holiday parties, of too much to do and too little time, of baking treats, visiting with friends and — in our house, anyway — thinking about the arrival home of our adored younger child, whose face we last saw (at least, without the aid of Skype) on August 29 as we drove away from New Orleans.
She’s had a good first semester at Tulane, and we’ve survived empty nest syndrome reasonably well. And now, it’s time for a reunion. And while my head has been filled with all the things we might do when she comes home — all the things I’ll cook for her, the Zumba class we’ll go to together, picking out the Christmas tree and decorating it, with eggnog in hand — the illusion was shattered today.
I’m from Connecticut, you see. A dear friend lives in Newtown; I know where Sandy Hook is. More than that, the elementary school where our younger child was educated is right down the street from us. Many days, Ben or I would walk her there, say goodbye as she went in the door, wave to the principal, thank her teachers for all they offered her. So I really can not imagine what nightmare the parents of Newtown are living through right now. How in the world could you have been planning for the holidays with your five- or eight-year-old one minute and find out, in the next, that the child has been blown away by a gunman?
What do we say, collectively, to those parents? What do we say to the families of those who have lost a loved one…those families of educators who devoted themselves to our children, so that they would have the opportunity to grow and contribute and flower in their lives? And why, in the name of all that is valuable in life, do we continue to believe that — because of this country’s struggle for liberty and the value of individual rights — we must have the right to bear firearms, allowing this catastrophe to happen over and over again?
By heaven’s grace, it wasn’t either of my children who died today. By heaven’s grace, it wasn’t my nephew, who teaches in a charter school, or an extended family member’s second grade son, or my cousin, who is a school librarian. But it could have been. And it should not be. Not ever.
We proudly proclaim that, as a country, we are the most powerful nation on earth. And then, people who suffer from mental illness or who have lost their way in life use the rights we continue to proudly claim, to buy firearms and in one horrible moment, blow away the lives, the futures, of twenty small children and the teachers who cared for them.
Too often, we take our lives and our existence for granted, take our privileges as citizens of this country as ‘inalienable rights’ that can lead us astray. There must be another way. Because, for those good people of Newtown and for us as a nation, life as we know it will not be the same. And we owe it to the memory of those children and teachers to make sure that the gun laws in this country are different so that this sad drama does not keep repeating.