Yesterday, on December 14, 2012, a horrific mass shooting occurred in a small, unassuming town in Newtown, Connecticut. This unthinkable event has America collectively weeping, shaking their fists, and screaming at the injustice. It only takes a few minutes of reading through the News Feed on Facebook or reading any comments on articles on news sites to see how this has rocked our nation. I know my blog was not created for social commentary but I cannot move past this day without marking it down and making sure that I remember it, and how it made me feel.
I tend to be a person who walks out into the world without thinking of the evil that can lurk behind each corner. I drive my car blindly, trusting that the person in the lane next to me will stay in her lane. I walk into banks late at night to do my ATM transactions, thinking for a moment that it probably is not the best time to do so, but the odds of something bad happening are so small, why worry over it? I have used Patco with my child, using the Camden station, with only a small amount of healthy caution that I would use at any public transit stop. Even though I have met stares of disbelief when I mention I have taken Evan on the train, and by myself???!! Typically I chuckle to myself internally and think, ‘Ah, how it must be tough to live in that type of fear.’ So glad I do not.
Unfortunately events like today pierce that bubble of security within me in an instant. I feel like a fool for feeling safe when it is possible for an individual to take the lives of 20 children in minutes without anyone being able to save them. My husband could tell I was taking this very hard today, and my mind was elsewhere while we were driving. He kept trying to make commentary on the scenery, to lighten my mood. I could tell he was trying very hard, and I apologized for being lost in thought and explained why. He told me to try not to focus on it too much, that it is a horrible, horrible event, but that we cannot control others.
I know he is right. That is my typical response when tragedy strikes at the hand of another human being. There is Evil in this world, but we cannot be consumed with that fact or we will not be able to live our daily lives.
But for today, for this morning at 2:51 am when I sit in a Kentucky hotel lobby, frantically searching for some sense of peace to hold onto, I am focusing on it. I feel I must. I must be reminded of not only the evil that does lurk within this world, but more importantly, the fragility of life. I feel thankful that I know life does not end on this Earth. That the beautiful, innocent children and the adults who took care of them who lost their lives are living their second chances in Heaven. That belief, and my faith, however challenged it truly is right now- are keeping me afloat in a sea of confusion and doubt.
Driving home from the second exhausting day of Dr. Mervis’ research study, we drove past many gorgeous old homes in Louisville, KY that were ready to be lit with twinkling white lights and had wreaths on each and every window. My heart sparkled for a moment, remembering how exciting the Christmas season is. I still get that rush of joy and pure happiness that I did as a child during this month of celebrations, surprises, and family. It is not as pure anymore, tainted by life experiences, knowing the materialism that comes with the holiday, etc. But I feel so incredibly blessed to have had the holidays I did as a child, and I realized with a jolt that those children had that opportunity stripped from them. Hopefully at their age they had a few years of memories, but now their families are left with gaping holes and searing pain and sorrow.
I thought immediately of my son, Evan, asleep in our backseat. I thought of his future, of his potential to see no race, to lack the social cues and understanding to know why he should not love everyone he meets. My eyes burned with unshed tears, and I fought back the impulse to lose it all together. I felt guilt at how I had been feeling just a few minutes earlier in the exit interview with Dr. Mervis. The words “typically developing children” were used over and over to show comparison with Evan. I have typed those words so many times in IEPs and I just felt so frustrated and pained that now my son will be the subject of that comparison and I will be reading those words and they will not refer to him. They will refer to my friends’ children, to his classmates, but not to him.
And I felt horrible guilt that I was bothered by that when 20 families were receiving word that they will not be able to take home their child that afternoon.
I picked up my sleeping son from his car seat, and sat with him in a dark hotel room, while he clung to me, asleep and exhausted from the assessments that day, and a lack of nap. I thought of his incredible smile, how it immediately captures your heart, no matter who you are. I couldn’t help but let myself imagine what it would be like to learn I had lost him. And it felt like a knife was turning over and over again in my chest.
My internal fists started to shake at the universe. Who cares if he is not “typically developing?” I know it is human to have those moments and I will not beat myself up over it (well at least not for much longer). But to waste time over words, when I have this living, breathing, example of pure love sleeping in his ‘pack and play’ right now, just seems disrespectful to the families who have lost their loved ones. If they had one more night with their child, with their mom, their dad- they would not waste it worrying about words on a paper or words being spoken in a research lab.
And I realize that is all I can do right now. Appreciate what I have and keep trusting. Keep using Patco from Ferry Ave with my healthy sense of caution. Keep driving down the highway trusting that the cars around me will follow traffic law. What can my worry or fear do for me? Nothing that is helpful or honoring to those who are no longer with us and their families who grieve. I will continue to love, continue to trust, continue to believe. It is the risk I must take as Evan’s mother.