Seven is a lucky number for some. I’ve never particularly associated anything lucky with it, except of course, those mornings where I realize I’ve luckily managed seven hours of sleep. But, because the alarm clocks rouse us adults here on Klien Street at four o’clock in the morning, I rarely achieve this goal.
This morning was no different, except that today is my son’s birthday, and when my alarm went off, instead of snoozing and rolling back over as usual, I stared at the clock: Four-blinking-colon-zero-four AM.
I stared at the neon green numbers, but I pictured the moment I first saw my 9 lb. 11 oz. son, blue-faced and screaming for the oxygen he had been deprived of during the final moments of delivery, his broken bloodvessel-filled eyes open wide and watching me, charging me with his safe keeping in this new world that had already proven dangerous. I reflected on how quickly he’s grown and changed–his humor hard-wired and ever-developing and his good-natured heart and compassionate gestures among the first comments on his report card every term. I speculated as to what the future will hold for him when he graduates–perhaps he’ll become an inventor who creates the first teleportation system, inspired by the long 600 mile car ride he takes twice a year to visit his aunt, uncle, and cousin in TN. Or, maybe he’ll decide to…
And that’s when it happened:
The image of his little munchkin face that I held in my mind changed, and I found myself picturing the sweet, angelic faces of the tender souls from Newton, Connecticut who will spend eternity at six. Each one of them frozen in an image that only captured a small sliver of their little selves in a moment when they were full of zest and verve and unrealized potential–each one ready to be a veterinarian, a sports star, an outerspace police officer, an artist…
I picture them and my heart breaks for their poor, grieving parents who will never get to light seven candles, give seven birthday kisses (plus one to grow on), pack a surprise seventh birthday card in a special birthday lunchbox, or watch indecision melt into a puddle of wax as a seventh birthday wish gets made.
At 4:05, the official moment of my son’s seven-hood, I cried myself back to sleep, entirely overwhelmed by the feelings of relief and then guilt over my own family’s safety, my own family’s happiness, and my own family’s completeness.
In the days since the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I (along with millions of other parents) have thanked God for the health and safety of my kiddos innumerable times; I have hugged and kissed them to the point of rolled eyes and amused acceptance; I have written letters to school officials and teachers thanking them for all they do and asking how parents can best support the safe school efforts already established in our district; and, like so many American parents, I have wept. And wept. And wept.
I am two steps removed from this tragedy–loosely connected only by a friend whose former classmate lost his beloved six-year-old daughter Charlotte. And yet, I weep for these losses as if I share them. Because, I do.
We all do.
It could have been our community, in one of our schools. It could have been our kids. We could have seen the news reports, gotten the calls, rushed to the scene. We could have been the ones left waiting, not knowing if we wanted to have the news delivered or to live in the hope of uncertainty for another moment. We could have had our worst nightmare played out in reality. And, though no one wants to give voice to our feelings–for we don’t want to appear callous, uncaring, or disrespectful–we are thankful that it wasn’t our community, our school, our kids, us.
We owe it to the victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School to keep their memories alive by being grateful for our own lives, by treasuring every moment we are afforded, by supporting our youths in their endeavors to better the future. As families who lost their precious children work to heal, we must work together to keep vigilance a priority in our schools and to keep complacency at an absolute minimum so that this tragedy is not repeated.
I said to a friend the other day that I hope and pray that somewhere, somehow, something positive blooms in memory of all those taken too soon. I think it’s starting. Across America people have started intelligent dialogues about mental health services, school administrators have reevaluated their safety protocols, teachers have been inspired by tales of heroism, students have witnessed the importance of coming to one another’s aid instead of tearing each other down, and parents have been reminded that our children–and, in my case, a seventh birthday–are truly life’s greatest gifts.
Love to you all.