I'm going to start by dumping out some of the things that have been running through my mind since last Friday, but then I'm going to write about some happy moments from the weekend, because I don't know when I'll have time to write again with Christmas rapidly approaching, and I want to capture them. I feel like it's crass to juxtapose these things, but there it is.
Where to begin?
I lived in New York City on September 11, 2001, and I was physically very close to the events that happened; I had to run from the crumbling towers as they fell.
In the weeks following, as everyone in the world tried to process something that defied even the most limited understanding, it grated on my nerves when people in far-flung areas of the country claimed that tragedy as their own. "It happened to all of us," said people who had never set foot in my city. People put up posters proclaiming, "We will never forget" in their bedrooms thousands of miles from Ground Zero.
Even though I hadn't lost a loved one in the attacks -- so I recognized that I didn't have the same claim on grief that others did -- it felt invasive and strange for people so removed from this place to try to take some ownership of that event and its aftermath. It DIDN'T happen to all of us, I thought. Did YOU have to run for your life as you heard twisted metal breaking and crashing behind YOU? Does YOUR city have a gaping hole where two buildings and thousands of people used to be?
I imagine that many people who experience tragedy are more gracious than I was, that they are able to feel and accept the support and sympathy offered by others following a loss; they don't treat grief as proprietary.
But given my past selfishness in the face of anguish, if I lost my tiny child to something as horrendous as what just happened, I am not sure that I would be able to maintain even a baseline measure of grace. Just thinking about it sends me to such a terrible place that I can't fathom going about even the most mundane tasks in that situation. I'm not sure I could leave my home or stop screaming in a primal wail. And I don't know that I could bear to see everyone else hugging their own children tighter and exalting their own acts of kindness as some sort of tribute to my loss.
I'm not AT ALL suggesting that people shouldn't do those things. Well beyond holding her tight, I did everything but put my daughter back inside my body the past few days to try to gain some sense of safety and comfort. And I am trying, per the last post, to be kinder, softer, more open and connected. I guess I just feel sort of self-conscious about it, in that it's so miniscule and meaningless in the greater picture; nothing I could ever do could ease even a tiny bit of those people's pain. NOTHING. So while there is a link between what happened and what I'm doing, I realize that it's a very tenuous one.
I know that we have to persevere through the worst times and all (because what is the alternative?), and none of us truly knows what any of those parents are experiencing except for the 19 other sets of parents who are in that nightmare alongside them, but it all feels like it's happening so FAST. *I* have scarcely inched past the initial sense of shock and denial, and I can barely get through the day without feeling panicky or grief-stricken. I can't imagine piecing oneself together enough to attend all those funerals, mourn in a terribly public way, and form sentences -- let alone set up memorial funds and act coherently while meeting with the President.
Lots of people who have had terrible things happen to them say that they hate hearing, "Oh, I could NEVER survive that!" or "I could NEVER do that!" from well-meaning friends and strangers, because it presumes so many things about both the person saying it and the person who has endured the trauma. I hope that's not what it seems like I am saying here, because that's not my intent.
The issue is that I have a horribly vivid imagination and a heavy tendency toward anxiety, so my mind has gone to countless awful scenarios since Friday, whether imagining the terror in those classrooms or the desperate panic of the parents as they looked for their children at the gathering place but never found them, or putting myself and -- most horribly of all -- my child into their shoes in the world's most unthinkable round of "What If?"
So it's part of what my head does, to envisage what the experience may have been like for everyone involved, and what it might be like to endure the unceasing, chasmic After. I'm not presuming anything about those who DID experience it, nor, of course, evaluating anyone else's response -- just conjuring, horribly, thoughts and images of what happened and is happening to those families, and what it would be to live it, and what I might feel or how I might act if it happened to me.
As with September 11, each time one of these mass shootings happens, it breaks down my usually sunny view of the world and of humanity -- but this one is by far the worst. It takes away another piece of my comprehension of how life works and how God operates. It's a timeless struggle, I realize, this mystery of life, but I feel like we should be able to be comfortable in ways that we now can never be again. Why can't I go back to a world in which preschools don't need security measures and lockdown drills? Where's my time machine to take me back to the days of getting on an airplane without worrying that the guy in 8B might try to blow us all up? When will I get to go to a movie theater without evaluating the exits and wishing that I'd worn body armor? When will nameless dread cease to overtake me about the incomprehensible things that could befall the most precious person in the world to me?
I think about how many families probably chose Newtown as their hometown because it felt so safe, so removed from the hurtling pace of life and potential dangers of New York City. It wasn't likely to be a target for terrorists; it probably does not see anything like gangs or drug-related violence. There aren't deranged people wandering subway platforms there. And now, this. Where can we go -- both literally and figuratively? What place is left untouched? And what unthought-of worries lie ahead that we haven't anticipated?
I'm not handling this well. I'm doing an even worse job of writing about it.
It's not about me; it isn't my tragedy. But it still feels personal. It's personal to all of us, even though it isn't. I can see that now.
Over the weekend, we took Felicity to a condensed version of the Nutcracker, a one-hour production aimed at young children. She was absolutely mesmerized by it. She also felt compelled to provide (loud) closed-captioning for everyone in the theater: "It's a ballerina! Her name is Clara! She's DANCING! He's doing saute! She's doing arabesque! Here come some more ballerinas! The Sugar Plum Fairy will come back onto the stage! There are lots of ballerinas! She's wearing a pretty bow in her hair!"
Adorable, yes. Thankfully, the audience was filled with little chatterboxes, so she wasn't alone, although it seemed like she was the loudest. As we left the theater, she danced her way to the bathroom, up the escalator, and out onto the sidewalk.
She also recently opened an early Christmas present, and when I said, "You got a present! Isn't that exciting?" she replied, "It's not exciting. It's BEAUTIFUL."
When we made Christmas cookies this weekend, she quickly realized that this was kind of work and not entirely enjoyable, so she took it upon herself to eat as much sugar from the countertop and mixing bowl as she could. Then she remarked, "I see a girl who is eating up all the sugar! And it's Felicity!"
And she has taken to combing out my hair after brushing her own after her bath. It's pretty great. She'll say, "Your hair looks BEAUTIFUL. Now you'll comb Mommy's hair. Be gentle! We have to get the tangles out." I could let her do that for HOURS. It is very soothing. Except when she hits a snag and almost pulls my head off.
Ah, this little face. This little lit-up face. It is everything in the entire world.