What happens when the site of so many beloved childhood memories becomes the site of a senseless bloodbath?
Closing my eyes today, I was able to easily transport myself back to a time where I stood in the hallways of Sandy Hook Elementary, idly poking at a loose tooth when I was six years old. At five years old, sitting at a wooden table with my classmates, contorting my stubby fingers to coax a script 'q' from the tip of my pencil. I carefully snipped and scored pieces out of oak tag at ten years of age to create a three dimensional dodecahedron which I still have to this day. In the fourth grade, crowding onto a cold floor with all the other girls for an awkward lecture on the female reproductive system.
I was afforded the opportunity to do all these things while never once feeling any fear for my life. No child should ever have to fear for their safety....well...ever. But most certainly not in a place where they are molding their minds and hearts for the future.
This is the second time in my life I have felt the blow of what it's like to be truly traumatized. The first was the sudden loss of my 21 year old cousin. I woke up today much like I did that day. I received a call from a relative telling me that there had been a tragedy. Upon hearing the news this morning, I fell immediately into the classic stage of grief, denial. I turned on the news and heard someone had been shot in the foot. I said to myself "Oh, ok. Not bad. Of course. These things don't happen in Newtown. School shooting, nah. Probably just some kid brought his dad's gun to school and it went off accidentally." It wasn't real to me until it was reported that a child had died inside the walls of my beloved elementary school. I broke down and have felt hollow ever since. Parts of me felt like they were being physically chipped away as I watched the body count rise on the national news channels.
Even though I was not directly related to anyone in the school, I feel like I have suddenly lost a close family member. Having been a part of the Newtown community for 26 years, that community is an intrinsic part of who I am. Today the community that I have been a part of for more than a quarter of a century has not only lost a generation of young minds, but has also been robbed of a sense of peace that has protected this community.
I hate the idea of people thinking of Newtown as a place where "these things happen". They don't happen here. And since the unthinkable happened and tragedy did strike, I take it as definitive proof that it can definitely happen anywhere.
I know there will be people worldwide that brand Newtown as an unsafe and risky place to send children to school. Where people will be apprehensive about applying for teaching jobs. But I'll know the truth. And the truth is that it's not towns that are the culprits of these types of tragedies; the tragedies are an indication that something is wrong with our society in a larger sense.
How do we keep our peace of mind and our children safe without sacrificing feelings of safety and freedom? What has changed in the years between my struggle with simple subtraction and now? (Although truth be told I still sometimes struggle with subtraction). I think that's the question we should be asking ourselves. What has changed? Security has increased, but violence appears to be increasing in kind. There can definitely be calls for increases in gun control, but there should also be calls into reform for mental health care and helping parents of children who struggle with mental health issues.
I have no answers now, and still feel empty. All I do know is that I desperately want to be part of the solution. And in a perfect world I would never wake up to hear the words "we never thought this could happen here" ever again.
Because things like these shouldn't happen anywhere.