This is not a typical post for me. But I cannot return to the topic of food allergies without acknowledging the tragic event that occurred here in CT last month.
I walked my daughter into school this morning and spotted this new poster hanging on the lockers.
To me, children are the definition of light and love and joy. When I saw this poster, all I could think about was Newtown. Truthfully, I’ve been trying hard not to think about it because every time I do I break down. As a former teacher and a CT parent of young children, it hits too close to home. The day it happened, both my husband and I were at home sick. We were watching T.V. when it was interrupted with news of a shooting at a school in CT. At first they reported that 3 people were injured. Then there were rumors of more. As the morning wore on, the unconfirmed reports became more horrific and I prayed that the networks had gotten it wrong. Then it was reported that all classes had been released…except one or two. It was then that we all knew, but it was just too horrible to accept. How could it be? How could anyone do that?
Before I had time to even let it sink in, I had to leave my house to pick my daughters up from school. I told myself to remain calm. I knew that if they saw me rattled and upset, it would scare them.
First, I drove to the middle school to pick up my 11-year-old. It was eerie. The kids had no idea what had happened, so they were running around, chatting, flirting, laughing, not knowing that today, for many, the world had come to a halt. All the parents were quiet, looking knowingly back and forth at each other without the typical talk.
I greeted my daughter with a bigger that usual hug and a kiss (which I usually don’t do in front of her friends now that she is in middle school) and quickly led her to the car. In the car I told her some information.
“I’d rather you hear it from me,” I said.
I was careful to follow the counselors’ advice, “…The man that did it has died… You are safe… I’m here, if you have any questions.”
She did. She had questions that have no real answers, questions like:
“Will it happen again?”
“Can it happen in our school?”
I did my best to reassure her while being truthful, not such an easy task.
Immediately after picking her up, I had to make my way over to my 7-year old daughter’s school. I told my older daughter to let me do the talking because I wasn’t going to reveal as much to her. I started the conversation, only giving very minor details.
“I have to tell you about something bad that happened in our state because you might hear about it in school. Some people were hurt, but they caught the bad guy, and you are safe.” Even that was too much for her to handle. She began crying and said she didn’t want to know… I could relate.
I said, “Ok.” and changed the subject.
The counselors said to maintain a routine and avoid the news. So, we avoided all the news, got through the rest of the pre-holiday school days and then focused on Christmas. But in the back of my mind those little children, the teachers, the principal, and their families were always there. As my children were opening their gifts, I thought of all the presents left unopened in the homes in Newtown. While I hugged and kissed my girls, I thought of all the hugs and kisses that will never happen again.
I would sneak in a conversation or two with friends trying to process what had happened. But it can’t really be processed, can it? It’s too evil to make sense of.
Evil acts have a rippling effect. It started with the victims, then the families of the victims, then the school, the community, the state, the country…the whole world has been mourning those lives and with those lives, the sense that the world is a safe place, that our children are cherished and protected from harm.
So, this morning, dropping my daughter off at school as I always do, somehow didn’t seem right. We are back to our old routine, beginning again, starting where we left off, but somehow it doesn’t seem right to move on. Still, what else can we do?
There has been and will continue to be lots of debate about gun control, services for the mentally ill, and the like. These are important conversations that need to take place, but this blog is not the forum for such debates. I am concerned about what can I do, here, today, in my town, in my daily life.
If I must accept that one person’s acts can inflict so much pain, then I must also concede that one person’s acts can send out a ripple effect of a different kind.
I can send out love, kindness, and empathy. So, this year, my resolutions will not be “to lose weight, eat right” etc. (which of course I will try). Instead, my New Year’s Resolutions will be a vow: to love more freely, to hug more often, to show more kindness, to greater express my gratitude, to take a deep breath before getting angry, to try to see another’s point of view…
I don’t think we will ever really recover from this loss. I still can’t talk about Newtown without tears, but I can make this simple vow. I hope you will join me because I believe in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Gina Mennett Lee, M.Ed.
President and Founder, Food Allergy Education Network