Two days ago, I was yelling at my class, yet again. There are fifteen of them and one of me. And they are four and five years old, but they are BIG. Not physically. But when they are screaming at me, when they are screaming at each other, when they are hitting each other and kicking chairs and throwing things and and being MEAN, they are bigger than I am. And it’s overwhelming. I went out this week and bought enough gifts for them to pick out something to exchange between each other, and I bought supplies to decorate edible Christmas trees, and I spent hours making fun holiday lesson plans, and I got them holiday books to take home to read over winter break, and here they are, being just plain hateful to each other and it is overwhelming. Last week, one of them said to me, “You are a bad girl. I told my mother you are a bad girl because you yell.” I went home and cried. Because a four year old told her mom I am a bad girl, and that must mean I am a bad teacher, an epic failure. I want to be a fun teacher and they just make it so hard sometimes. There is one of me and so many of them and mostly, I feel like a failure on a daily basis.
And then a man walks into a school in Connecticut and shoots up a classroom full of children and all of a sudden, my babies are babies again. Holy perspective. They aren’t so big. They are four and five years old, and they are so SMALL. Even the biggest one still fits in my lap when he needs a hug. They still cry when they fall down. They get sick and come to me, expecting me to do something to fix it. One parent told me her son asks for me when he gets upset at home. A little girl who was removed from her mother’s care asked me if she could come live at my house. I am Santa for three of my students whose families cannot afford Christmas this year. I get called “momma” by accident at least once a day. I am their teacher, their constant. I am the person who is supposed to carve out a safe place in this world for them. My classroom is the place they are supposed to be able to think and play and learn and grow. I am supposed to take these fifteen little people and help them become stronger, smarter, better people. I am supposed to teach them and protect them and love them, even on their worst days.
This job is So. Hard. And I can’t be the only one that feels this way.
My assistant and I read the news of the shooting during naptime. The flu hit our classroom earlier this week, and I sent students home with fevers, one by one. By naptime yesterday, I had seven students left. One woke up halfway through her nap, and puked lasagna all over herself, her cot, and my carpet. Down to six. My assistant and I were coughing and sniffling and popping Vitamin C drops like they were candy. I’m just painting a picture here. It was a hard week. With sick kids and sick teachers, I kept saying it was the longest week we’ve had this year. So when we read that children had been killed, I felt numb at first. Here I am, exhausted and ill and ready for a break from my kids, and there are teachers in Connecticut dying to save theirs.
A million thoughts have run through my head since the news broke. I spoke with the teachers at my school, and with my mom who is a teacher, and with a friend who is training to be a teacher. I collected all the thoughts that brainstormed through us, everything that’s crossed our minds since yesterday. Why is this SO sad to us? Because it could have been us. Think of the moms. Sisters. Cousins. Grandmas. And out comes the gun control issue to divide our country when we are trying to teach community and love. I feel sad. I feel guilty. I feel grief. I am praying. There will be worse days. What about graduation day when those kids aren’t there? What about all the sixteenth birthdays that won’t happen? I feel selfish. Kids in China got stabbed yesterday but no one is talking about it. The talk of homeschooling. And I always want to defend public education, but now I see their point, too. And then I think of the public educators who died or almost died trying to save these kids. It makes me realize we can’t protect children all the time. Bad people do bad things and we can’t stop evil from occurring. How do you tell a six year old her best friend is dead? How do you tell her she’s going to be safe, when you don’t know that? What about the parents of the kids, and the parents of the adults, and the kids who are alive but lost siblings? What about the first responders who will forever dream of the bodies of dead children? And the parents who already bought Santa gifts for their kids? What do they do with those presents? Do they get their bookbags back? And their childrens’ school work? And what do they do with those two classrooms? They can’t possibly use them again as classrooms. Maybe a meditation room. When do they even go back into that school? And how did HE get in? I want to know about the last minutes. The timeline. It’s interesting. Is that sick, that I want to know? And why didn’t he kill himself first? If he was going to do that anyways? Why take the others with him? And What. Would. We. Do. I forget my key every day. What if it happened to me? Would my kids die because I couldn’t lock my door because I forgot my key? How do I save them all?
A million questions and a million more. No answers for most of them, or for the biggest ones. How do we keep from drowning in this? How do we get up and go on?
As I drove home, sobbing, I heard a St. Jude’s telethon on the radio. A mom was describing her daughter, her heart full of love and her body full of cancer, bald and beautiful, girly and prissy and a shining ray of light for all who knew her. And the man on the radio said I could call and be a “Partner in Hope” by donating twenty dollars a month to St. Jude’s hospital, where this little girl was fighting for her life. And I thought... twenty babies were murdered today. And I am helpless. I can do nothing for them. But I can do something for other babies, who are trying to reach the future. So I called. Please realize, I’m not saying you should call. This is not a piece about how you should give money to someone. But I am telling you to do something for someone else. To draw yourself out of the sorrow just a little bit, so you don’t drown. Do something to help you remember that, even though there is evil in the world, there is good, too. And there is a lot of evil, a lot of bad, a lot of sad. So we need a lot of love and a lot of good and a lot of kind, just to find some kind of balance.
I keep hearing the same question over and over. What kind of world are we living in? This is what I know. We live in a world where evil exists. Where evil presents itself on a daily basis. Sometimes, evil walks into an elementary school and murders babies. Hearts get broken, lives get taken, and those who survive are enveloped in devastation. There is no doubt, we absolutely live in a world where evil exists. But I also know this: we live in a world where real life, every day heroes exist, too. We live in a world where educators will do anything they can to protect children they did not even birth. We live in a world where first responders will risk their own lives, literally running straight into a deadly situation instead of running away from it, for the sole reason of saving lives of people who they have probably never met. We live in a world where a group of grown men trained to battle burning buildings will stand inside a firehouse, making silly faces at kids and comforting hysterical parents, entertaining everyone to keep them calm in the midst of pandemonium. We live in a world where our leaders stand strong when facing panic - where the governor of a town affected by a mass shooting decides that it is more important to talk first to the families of those who lost loved ones than it is to talk to news crews, where a president first addresses a nation as a father with tears in his eyes instead of as a politician with an agenda. We live in a world where, when tragedy strikes, citizens drop to their knees in tears, lifting prayers up for strangers. Lighting candles for strangers. Holding vigil for strangers. Grieving for strangers. Loving strangers. Pausing for a moment, laying down our own worries and taking on the sadness of strangers. Helping each other realize that really, truly, we are not strangers at all.
“This is how we know what life is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”