Sunday, December 23, 2012

Sandy Hook

Last Saturday I took the girls to the Evanston Ecology Center to make nature Christmas tree ornaments, one of the ecology center's No Child Left Inside programs. Nora's initial reluctance was blown away by the first sight to greet us as we came in the room: a tortoise, the size of an inverted punchbowl, lumbering around the room. "Look out! He's chasing us down!" I said and feigned a cartoony slow-motion escape. The girls petted a huge black rabbit and comparison-shopped a degu's double decker cage for his cousin, our Little Prince.

Our program guide Tim took us on a walk through the Ladd Arboretum where we collected leaves and pine needles, dried flowers and pine cones. Back in the warm program room, glitter flew, paint splashed and melted wax dripped until we had an egg carton fill of wet and wonderful ornaments for the tree (and our winter coats were dappled with yellow acrylic.)

On Sunday, Nora had a birthday party, Mia played hide-n-seek with our neighbor girl and both practiced their instruments and sporadically helped Mommy with my afternoon of cookie baking. Peppermint bark, Martha Stewart's pistachio-almond-apricot-dried cherry confections and sugar cookies that we decorated later in the week, once I figure out how to make royal icing, once I figured out that melted white chocolate makes an awesome icing.

"The Year With a Santa Claus" wrapped up our weekend, but somewhere between the innocence and the sweetness, beyond the drifts of glitter and sparkling sugar, there had to be The Talk. I picked Saturday night dinner at the new little steak house in town. We were comfy in our seats under a giant wreath, we were together, we were eating bread and butter and I asked the girls if they had heard anything at school on Friday.

"No."

Telling the girls an abbreviated version of what happened in Connecticut felt wrong enough - words that no parent should need to say. Yet rushing to tell them next that what happened was very far away from us seemed even more wrong: an imperfect way to reassure them of their safety. I would rather nurture their belief that we are one world and the children of another town, another state, another country are our neighbors and our friends. But this moment I was flying by the seat of my pants and on advice I'd found online.

"Was he drunk?" asked little Nora.

"How did he...?" asked Mia and I had to say, "He had a gun." My voice wavered. I rushed to add, "But the good thing is that now we are going to change laws so that people can't get guns to hurt kids."

Nora was ready to move back to the Dav Pilkey books she had brought along, but Mia sat limp in her chair, lost. I moved to her side and we hugged. "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, honey, but we knew people would be talking about this at school and we wanted you to know you are safe and loved."

A horrible conversation. And I had thought Columbine was the worst we would ever see.

Something happened to me two Fridays ago. I was on the phone, in the middle of a sentence when I saw the headline "28 dead" and I stopped short, my throat closed, sick, unable to speak to the oblivious woman on the other end.

Every morning since then, I wake up to the awful reality again.

My sister and brother did not die from an act of violence, only a sad, sad error, but the reports of twenty tiny coffins brings back the acute agony of the year they died and the lingering pain of every year after. They were gone and realizing this fact again every morning was a plunge down a slope of jagged rocks. The world was wrong. The world was gone wrong. The pain was many and various. The regrets of not caring for them enough in the short time we had together. The horror of imaging their last moments. The soul-sucking loneliness of their absence. The terrible ache of seeing the future holidays and normal days and special days and every day without them. My heart goes out to the Sandy Hook families. I have tasted a sip of their grief.

There was a horrific perfection to the numbers (20 children, 1st grade, 6 and 7 years old, 11 days before Christmas) and the place (the sacred ground of an elementary school) that crystallized and made absolute the gun-control necessity in my belief system. The numbers and their names and faces cut through the haze of defense mechanism ambiguity with which I had viewed previous shootings. These were the ugly lies I told myself before December 14: They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. That child should not have been in a midnight movie. A grad of Columbine once told me "something was wrong with that school," that it was a place full of bullies. Lies I told myself to make the deaths tolerable. I am sorry, I am so so sorry for my blindness, for my lack of compassion and connection.

Yesterday we took the girls to see War Horse on stage at the Cadillac Theater and what I had half expected did happen: Mia was enthralled with the show while Nora felt better out in the lobby with me during the second act. The surprise I felt was not that the older girl would appreciate the show and the younger would need a break, but rather at my revulsion to a show I had read much about and had been looking forward to for weeks.

I knew the stories of the naively honorable and foolishly brave World War One cavalries decimated by the tanks; I expected the pathos of a vulnerable animal in danger and an unlikely reunion between the boy and his horse. Still, the character of Billy, the cousin of the War Horse's young owner, convulsing in panic and fear before a charge into the machine guns shook me out of engagement with the story. I hated this play. I wanted to leave.

It was a perfect story for this moment in America: innocents destroyed by weapons beyond the control of those who unleashed them upon the world. We are engaged in a cold war all over again, only this time, the opponents are ourselves. Weapons of mass destruction are pointed at our children and our only solution to the threat is disarmament.

Please use this link to donate to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Please write the President and Vice-President to show your support for gun control, and to your Senators and Representatives at the state and federal level to urge them to vote for reasonable and rationale firearms policy. Keep writing them.

Please call your money person if you have one and tell him or her to transfer your savings to socially responsible funds that do not invest in gun manufacturers.

Please refuse to give in to cynicism and hopelessness. Our president, on the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s death, told us, "Dr. King once said that the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. It bends towards justice, but here is the thing: it does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us in our own ways put our hand on that arc and we bend it in the direction of justice...."

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