I have voluntarily spent the past several days in a dark place. Darkness is the only emotion that feels appropriate at the moment.
I keep telling myself I need to stop reading and watching about the horrors at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. But then I step away from the computer or the TV news and feel guilty, as if I owe it to the parents and relatives of those poor teachers and first-graders to hear about the stories of their last few breaths — every minute detail — and their lives and their families and their funerals.
I keep thinking about those parents who found out their children didn’t survive. How they must have fallen to the floor, wailing and moaning and screaming. With each of their cries, I project: How would I have reacted if my children had been at that school? If they were among the survivors? The victims? How would my daughters have fared in a locked closet or bathroom or cabinet? Would they have stayed silent or wept loudly or tried to escape? What if they had seen their teacher being murdered or their classmates? How do you recover from that?
I keep trying not to imagine it all — the last thoughts of those poor souls, of the parents of the victims, of the very young survivors who witnessed what no one ever should, but especially not those so young. And ultimately, all I can see is darkness and all I can feel is numb and nauseous.
And then on Monday morning, I picked up the phone. I called the head of the building where my older daughter goes to preschool. It’s a relatively small building, although it has roughly 40 doors — all of which are unlocked during daylight hours. Within hours I was sitting in a meeting with two police officers and the directors of all the childcare programs in the building. And a few hours after that, it became official: All of those doors would be locked during the day. And within a few months they will have installed panic buttons inside each classroom that are wired directly to the police station. The main office will have a way of alerting each classroom in the event of a lockdown. Classroom doors will be locked from the hallway, with teachers having a hands-free, digital way to unlock their doors as they come in and out.
The murderer in Newtown shot his way into a locked school, but I keep wondering if hearing the commotion in the office over the PA system gave some of those teachers a few extra minutes of warning to secure their students however they did. And it’s those thoughts that lead to the change at my daughter’s preschool yesterday.
My advice is this: Sign a petition. Sign all of them. Call your state representatives. Demand change. Boycott people and businesses and organizations who refuse to budge on the issue of gun control. Refuse anything less than the best possible care at little to no cost for everyone suffering from mental illness. March on Washington.
But maybe also think about what you can do to help ensure your own child’s safety today. Right now. At school. At home. On the playground. Whether it’s some kind of protection from strangers brandishing weapons or checking to make sure your kid’s bicycle helmet still fits properly or that your child’s car seat is installed according to the manufacturer’s specifications — do what you can. Danger comes in all forms, and most of us, quite fortunately, have the benefit today of knowing our children are still here for us to make a difference, no matter how big or small.
We can’t prepare for everything. We can’t anticipate a lot. We can’t live our lives worrying about the things we can’t control. But we can do our best to ensure that what is in our control is as safe as it can be.
It’s still dark in my world today, but I slept a little better last night and see a tiny beacon of light today knowing that measures have been implemented to make sure my daughter and her classmates are just a little more secure today than they were on Friday.
At this point, that’s about all I can ask for, and as dark as it still is, at least I can look at, touch and kiss my daughters’ faces when I need a little light.