Friday, December 14, 2012

It almost happened to me

I am dropping everything right now to write this blog post. It's that important. I don't know that I'm saying anything new or even that anything I'm writing here will matter. But here goes.

To the families of the innocent children and adult victims who died at the hands of the gunman today at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, my heart grieves with you. I am so indescribably sorry for your loss. There are no words that anyone can say right now that will matter or change the fact of what happened; nothing, not even time, can stop this kind of pain. But I am not alone in saying that I want to see something done about this that will help prevent anything like this from happening again, at least as much as humanly possible.

Because I am a writer, I want to tell you a story; this happens to be a true story, and it happened to me. It was 1985, and I was in second grade, all of seven years old. I remember that it was a sunny day. In my classroom, I raised my hand for permission to use the restroom, but someone, one of the little girls from my class, was already out, and the rule was one person at a time. I put my hand down, denied. I squirmed, held it, and watched the door for my classmate to return, but minutes passed and there was still no Sarah. I had to go and I just knew she was taking her sweet time, trying to get out of class for as long as possible. I raised my hand again, and my teacher, being perceptive, allowed me to leave, telling me on my way out to check on Sarah and send her back to class. I nodded, armed now with two missions, took the wooden stick that served as hall pass, and walked out the door as quickly as I could without running. I kept my pace steady down the hallway toward the girls' restroom, which was on the right near the end of the long corridor.

In the restroom, I could hear Sarah humming. "Sarah, come on," I told her in my bossy voice. "You have to go back to class." I took care of business and repeated my message after washing up. She ignored me. "Sarah!" I said again. "Okay, in a minute," she replied lazily, returning to her humming and dawdling. I left the restroom and as I continued slowly down the hall, taking my own sweet time getting back to class, I saw a shadow darken the glass double doors just past our classroom at the end of the hallway. The doors opened to the outside covered walkway that led to the faculty parking lot. I slowed my pace, watching as an unfamiliar man entered the building. In his hand, something gleamed and my eyes shot over to it immediately. He was stuffing a gun in his pocket. Being a clever girl, I pretended not to notice, moving to the other side of the hallway and looking as unassuming as I possibly could. Head down, I didn't make eye contact, but when I came to one of the other second grade teacher's doors, I opened it and made ready to go inside, still pretending not to notice him. He passed me by without incident, and I muttered something unintelligible to the teacher who was not my own and by now bore a quizzical expression, then quietly exited to the hallway. As quickly and silently as I could, I walked to back to my classroom.

In my classroom, I ran up to the teacher and whispered to her that there was a man with a gun in the girls' bathroom, and that Sarah was still in there. The teacher made a phone call, then locked the classroom door. I remember that we had a sudden "tornado drill," and everyone had to get under their desks. What happened after that is hazy, but before long we were all outside of the building and the police were inside of it, and I knew that was a good thing.

Other children have not been so lucky. My school averted some unknown disaster, but it is a scene that remains unfathomable to me. There are the obvious questions of why, but those questions pale in light of the tragedy of young lives lost. Sometimes it seems pointless to ask why when we're still trying to comprehend how such a horrible thing could happen.

I wanted to share this because unfortunately, this tragedy is nothing new. And yet, it is still happening. Twenty-seven years later, and this is still happening. I don't know what the answer is, and I don't know that there is one single answer or any answer at all, but I refuse to believe we can't come up with a solution to protect our children in this age of iPads and eReaders and so many sophisticated technology systems.

Incidents like this are a disgrace to the entire human race. Start a movement for change. Do something. Do whatever you can. Let your voice be heard. Don't stand by and let this happen to our children. One child lost is one child too many. More than that is an insult to the entire human race. If we can't protect our own, we don't deserve to be on this planet.

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