I waited 30 days to write this post. In some ways, I can't believe I haven't spoken up yet. But there's another part of me that wants to keep mum forever, because telling the story means it really did happen. Either way, this is hard.
June 10 was Lindsay and Campbell's last day of school. More on that shortly. First, I need you to step back in time with me:
Last April I taught in Minneapolis. Over the course of five days and three venues, many of my friends who are also knitting teachers worked at the same events as me. I had the rare opportunity to reconnect and enjoy a little down time with some of my professional associates. You might not think of it this way, but we knitting teachers mostly work alone. Lone wolves that we are, when it's finally time for the pack to gather, we really love to catch up and compare notes. Not having co-workers means we cherish this "water cooler" time.
One evening after classes were over, I found myself seated at dinner next to my friend Stephanie. The conversation was lively, and all over the place, fueled both by exhaustion and some very nice wine. At one point, the issue of gun control in America came up. Stephanie is from Canada, and so has an outside perspective on issues here in the US. What she said will stay with me forever. Her observation was that after Sandy Hook, the rest of the world effectively gave up hope of the US ever sorting our gun problem. That when we failed to protect the little children, it was clear that we just didn’t get it. And then she pointed out that if everybody in in the US who said they care about the issue had really DONE something about it, the problem would have been solved by now. That in Canada, the citizens would get personally involved with a problem of this scope. All of which really resonated with me, because I realized that I had not personally lifted a finger in the direction of change. I just had helplessly felt bad about it. Very Un-American, to my mind, and something that made me uncomfortable with myself.
Now return with me to June 10. Having dragged myself home from a week on the road the night before, I slurped coffee in a fugue state as my family prepared for launch that morning. Lindsay made fun of me for failing to get my arms into the sleeves of the cardigan I had on. "Use your sleeves, Dummy!" she called over her shoulder on her way out the door. Something about the idea of sleeve use tickled me, and I snarffed into my mug to avoid doing a spit take.
Half an hour later, Phillip called to tell me there had been a shooting at Lindsay's school. She had sent him a text that she was safe, but the building was in lockdown, and he was on his way home. I grabbed my mobile; she had sent me a message too:
"Mom, there's a shooter in my school. I'm okay, but I wanted to tell you that I love you."
The next hours were a blur of TV news, anxious texts, and crushing powerlessness.
My daughter and her friends were forced to sit on the floors of their darkened classrooms, not moving, not speaking, listening to the sounds of the SWAT team in the hallway outside. With no idea what was happening. That went on for hours. Then they were relieved of their belongings, physically searched, and marched off the campus with their hands over their heads. All 2,800 of them. Then they waited four more hours to be moved by bus from the church parking lot where they were being held, to the grocery store parking lot where the parents all waited.
All that time, Campbell’s middle school was in lockdown, 2 miles up the road. Cam had no information other than that there had been a shooting where his sister was. You might imagine what stories were flying around him all day. Meanwhile, Phillip and I stood in the grocery parking lot, surrounded by law enforcement and news crews (who kept shoving cameras at everyone), with no idea of when Lindsay would be given back to us. We were able to communicate with her via text message, thank God, which is the only reason I didn’t lose my mind. Campbell had no such luxury, so the impact of the day was different for him.
Waiting for further instructions from the police, we comprehended the enormity of the situation. Phillip looked at me with tears in his eyes, and with a quaver in his normally smooth tenor, said " Every person in this country who has voted wrong on gun control has blood on his hands today." My totally unflappable husband, the rock upon whom we all depend, was well and truly flummoxed. Unable to reclaim his daughter, unable to comfort his wife, unable contact his son, Phillip's rage at the helplessness nearly overcame him. I watched him breathe deeply as he fought for self-control.
Shortly after that a cameraman parked his tripod right next to us. Without a word, Phillip strode confidently up to the tripod, and stood squarely in front of the camera with his hands on his hips. His shot completely obscured, the cameraman backed the tripod up several feet. Phillip advanced accordingly, blocking the shot again. Without a word, the cameraman packed up his gear and moved to another part of the parking lot. His small victory over the paparazzi won, my husband squared his shoulders and returned to my side. He held my hand, and suggested we text Lindsay again. I took this picture of us, and sent it with the following text:
"Mom and Dad are waiting for you here in the parking lot. We are the ones who look like this, in case you forgot."
What I didn't say is "Don't be fooled by our smiling mouths. Our tortured eyes (mine intentionally hidden) show how much we love you and how badly we want you back with us."
What nobody there was saying, but all the parents were thinking, was: There is at least one family here whose child is not coming home.
As it turned out, two children died on June 10. One who was the shooter, and one who was a victim. Their gym teacher was shot in the hip. Although he was already injured, the coach's heroic actions to implement the lockdown saved all the other children.
Ultimately my family was reunited; hugged and cried, and gave thanks. We are mostly OK, though Lindsay has had some sleepless nights, and so have I.
I'm still trying to figure out how to feel about it all. I'm not sure what's worse: That school shootings keep happening, or that they are so common now that our schools have systems in place to deal with them. Both my children (and my husband, too) regularly practice school lockdown drills, just like fire drills used to be rehearsed.
The message I've received from the universe has been loud, clear, and redundant:
- April 27: My friend reminded me that I have not done anything to change the violence problem in my country.
- June 9: I stood in an airport thanking God that the school shooting on TV wasn't were my kids were.
- June 10: My family lived through this crisis.
Coincidence? I think not.
The events at Lindsay's school marked the 74th shooting since the Sandy Hook masacre, only 18 months prior. The President spoke out the day after, HERE.
So what will I do? I'm not sure yet, but I know that I'm finished with feeling helpless at gunpoint.