I was on the way to my Hannah’s preschool when I first heard news about Newtown. Once she was safely inside, I sat frozen in my van as tears filled my eyes thinking of the many parents who dropped their child off just like I had with no one left to pick up. My next stop was my daughter’s first grade classroom where I was set to spend the afternoon volunteering. A school with a female principal similar in size to Sandy Hook.
Upon arrival, I went through our own safety protocol and then paused to thank the most two amazing front desk women a school could ever have. In the hallway, I stopped to thank the principal, doubly struck as both an administrator and mother of elementary aged children, for all she did to keep our children safe. And, when I hit Grace’s classroom, I gave her soft-hearted teacher a hug for being the special person she is in my daughter’s life. They are all everyday unsung heroes who love my child well.
Grace came running toward me with that beautiful spark in her eyes that lights up my life. She enveloped me in a hug and I tightly squeezed her back. Was I thanking God to have her? Yes. But was it different than any other time I’ve stepped foot in her classroom? No. This is our norm.
I chose not to turn on the news much over the next few days. Our girls are simply too young to process this in any sort of healthy, meaningful way so we intentionally shielded them, and I didn’t feel like investing a bunch of energy into media could bring any good to this horrific situation. Rather, I bent my knees in prayer and looked at the Christmas tree with even more anticipation for the arrival of baby Jesus, who chose to come into our messy, broken world and redeem all. Thank you, Lord, for that.
I would see the faces of the lives lost and pray for them each by name as well as hear a few stories of bravery that remind us all how invested school workers are in the lives of our daughters and sons. And I appreciated that. But I would also hear cries to hug our children closer, and I struggled with that.
The truth is with each rise and fall of our chest we are all one breath closer to dying. Parents leave us too soon, children quit breathing, medical diagnoses change lives, and unseen tragedy surprises. Daily. Most of these stories will not make the national or even the local news, but waves of grief resonate just the same for family required to say goodbye.
We are a nation in mourning. Senseless violence has claimed lives of the innocent and we’re all left crying out to God, acutely aware of the gift our children are even on their naughtiest of days. Should we hug them close? Absolutely. But, embracing them as a temporary emotional response to another’s loss does not honor the parents whose arms now run empty or write any sort of life message on their hearts. It must be our permanent way of life.
This horrific act of violence cannot be changed. And my heart will continue to weep for a school destroyed and parents called to bury their first grade children on the same day I entered Grace’s first grade classroom and helped healthy children make sparkly Christmas gifts for their parents. However, we can examine whether we are fully appreciating the people God’s given us and, if necessary, make a change.
Unfortunately, in time, those of us on the perimeter will see and hear less of Connecticut and “normal life” will resume. But what will your “normal life” look like? Will you still be saying thank you and smothering loved ones in hugs? Because that is the story your kids will know and the memory loved ones will have of you.
We’ve always been huggers on good days and bad. My children noticed no difference on Friday and for that I am thankful.
Lord, let us never take our children or any other loved ones for granted. May we always hug them tightly while they’re here.