When seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold stormed into Columbine High School and murdered 12 classmates and one teacher before committing suicide on an April morning in 1999, I was an 11th grade English teacher in Charlotte, NC. That afternoon, I sat on a desk in front of the television in my empty classroom, paralyzed by the story playing out on the news.
That could have happened at my school, I thought. Could have happened at any school. And I was terrified, trying to imagine what I would have done if I'd been the teacher facing the end of a loaded shotgun.
This past Friday, when the news alert landed in my inbox with the headline "'Several' Students, Adults Dead After Elementary School Shooting In Conn.," I was frozen again. But this time the fear was different. This time I wasn't in a North Carolina classroom -- this time, my son was.
The rational part of my brain knew he was fine, knew the situation was unspeakably horrible but also hundreds of miles away. Still, the rest of me -- all the mom parts of me -- needed to get to my son as quickly as possible and hold him close.
Since Friday afternoon, I've read pieces of articles, heard bits of stories, all of which stop me in my tracks and reduce me to tears so that I'm forced to look away. After Columbine, I was scared. But Sandy Hook has pierced down under my skin, broken into my heart in ways that I cannot really explain except to say that I am a mom now. When I think of those in the school who were both teachers and parents, I cannot even comprehend what they experienced.
I hear the story of the police officer who slipped his badge under the door so the kids in hiding would know it was safe to come out, listen to the rabbi talk about trying to help a grieving mother breathe, read about one father who found his child alive and another father who didn't, imagine the terror everyone must have felt -- and my brain simply starts to shut down. My heart constricts, my stomach drops, I can't breathe. If my child were among the missing, I am certain that I would simply cease to exist.
And yet these parents are still breathing, in spite of it all.
So that is all I can think to pray for today. Please, God, help the survivors to breathe. Find air for them to fill their lungs so they can find a way back to living. Make space for them -- the parents and students and teachers -- to catch a breath now and then that will be deep enough to force the pain out and lift them up to the light for just a moment.