There Is No Why

© 2012 Whitney Reed

© 2012 Whitney Reed

Saturday morning, I made a quiet breakfast of scrambled eggs and grits with my own six-year-old. Just the two of us. She sang in her room just beyond the kitchen as I cried into the bowl of broken egg guts and cursed the bits of shell that fell in. I believe everybody was hit more than once, the words of the Chief Medical Examiner have been ringing in my ears. And because I can’t encounter any piece of news without taking it on myself, injecting it into my own heart, I could only imagine her little overalls, her hands, her sweet brave forehead, her perched on a bathroom sink by a teacher who barricaded her class into the bathroom while gunshots fired in the next room, across the hall, who knows where.

I’ve been so overcome, I took her to the aquarium today. Because, really, there’s nothing more peaceful than an aquarium. It’s otherworldly. Creatures floating in water all around, and people, swarms of people, sharing moments of laughter and wonder behind a sheet of glass. It was raining when we left. Who would know? On the way home, Ruthie asked me, “What’s it like to be a grown-up?” And I thought, THIS. This is what it’s like to be a grown up. It has something to do with knowledge, and loss, and love, and what to do with all of that, but I didn’t tell her this of course. I told her it meant you could eat ice cream for breakfast if you wanted to.

I remember when Ruthie was first born, our first outing. She was maybe 3 weeks old. I don’t know, maybe a month. I can’t even remember where we went, but there were other babies there with their own mothers, some of them crying. And I remember I could feel their cries in my gut. I physically reacted to them–looking to my own Ruthie’s peaceful face with panicked confusion. But you don’t LOOK like you’re crying. And this is what I feel like we are all doing about Newtown–we are owning their pain, their loss, because it feels like it is OUR loss. And it is unimaginable. That is one of the most painful, most beautiful things about us humans: It’s primal, our connection to one another.

We can talk about gun control, we can talk about how we should provide more resources to the mentally ill, how we should call our representatives, and how we should pray more. And, you know, I’m not saying those things aren’t important. But the truth is that bad things happen for no good reason. All of these articles about the shooter and his mother… and WHY. We’re all asking why. Why are we asking why? Because if we can understand it, then maybe we can control it. And, sure, there are things we could do, measures we could take, but the truth is that bad things do happen for no good reason. And this is what makes us hug our babies tighter and kiss their hairlines, breathing deep, thankful and sad at the same time.

I was a teacher for seven years and I can’t imagine what I would say to my students tomorrow morning if I had to face them. I’ve been a mother for just as long and, thankfully, I haven’t had to talk about it to my own little girl. It’s been a silent, very grown up kind of suffering these past few days. But if I had to explain it to anyone, I’d fall back on the wisdom of Mr. Rogers, which is really a good policy in any given situation, because I like his focus. He says:

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”

So what are we supposed to do with all of this? Holding someone’s hand is always a great place to start. Or tell the people you love that you love them. Sing the hero’s song. Cry a little. Send love. Good, human, hearty love. Pay attention to all the awesome shit that’s happening right in front of you. Maybe turn your phone off and admire the tower your six-year-old made out of 52 Jenga blocks straight up. Shore those fragments against the ruin, T.S. Eliot style. Or maybe just wash her favorite pair of overalls every night this week so she can wear them every day. I know in this house, we’ll be eating ice cream for breakfast tomorrow morning. With fruit, of course. It’ll be a few more days before I can bear another broken egg.


Magic Mittens

© 2010 David Parker

Someone very close, very dear, and very lovely came up to me the other day and confessed to feeling totally defeated and I imagined myself reaching into this person’s heart with a glowing-ember mitten that could fix it. Whenever people I love feel uncomfortable or sad or lonely or left out or hurt or misunderstood or awkward (especially awkward) or if they’re just struggling in general, I have this overwhelming desire to slip inside their bodies and feel it instead. Because something about my temperament already feels it anyways.

Tonight, Ruthie and I took a walk before bedtime and on the way back to the house, we stopped to talk to one of my former students and her friend. Ruthie ran around behind me and began licking the back of my arm like a kitten. I guess we’ve entered that strange developmental stage where children both want attention and shy away from it, which causes them to resort to strange behaviors. I tried not to make a big thing about it, but, I mean, if it happens again, I need to have something ready for explaining why we can’t do this. She’s terribly precocious and it’s painful for me to watch her grow into becoming self-conscious because I know how uncomfortable that felt when I was a little kid and even now. I realize that discomfort is necessary for developing as a person, but even still, I think I’m going to ask for one of those mitten-thingys for my birthday. Or for Christmas–Santa Clause may have a bit more pull than my friends and family when it comes to producing magic things to heal hearts.

Four is the Loneliest Number

© 2010 David Parker

It’s no surprise that today sucked. I mean, it’s August 4, the day I’ve been dreading since school got out in May. I’d like to say it was good to be back, but it wasn’t. I walked into my overturned classroom and I could feel the weight of papers to grade, after-school detention slips to hand out, seating charts to make, filing cabinets to purge. But, like everything else, the dread of the thing wasn’t as bad as the thing itself.

I spent the day emptying my room of everything that reminded me of last year. In my desk drawer, I found two pairs of shoes (heels and flats), an old lunchbox, half of a computer charger, and, near the very-very bottom, my teaching certificate. (I hate it when I find things I didn’t know were lost. I mean, unless it’s money.) During our faculty meeting I looked up quotes to hang around the room and a poem for students to read on the first day. I still can’t find a poem with the right flavor. Most teachers choose something kind of cheesy, but I like to go for more rock-your-world type stuff. Stuff that makes the kids second-guess everything they thought they knew about what school is. Like “The Toothfairy” by Dorianne Laux, which begins with the speaker’s memory of how her mother painted glittery footprints on her sheets “with a love so quiet I still can’t hear it,” and ends with the dissolution of her parent’s abusive relationship. I know. But it’s a great jumping-off place for talking about what literature is, what it does, and why we need it. Plus, the imagery is killer.

After I’d wasted away the day in my mess of a room, I took Ruthie to get her FOUR-shot checkup. What’s worse than holding your child down while someone jabs a needle into her tense little thigh muscle? I’ll tell you: nothing. Nothing’s worse than that. It’s worse than having it yourself because the whole time you’re holding her hands in her lap and her legs between yours, you’re thinking: Give me the shot. Mom-love is a strange, tortured, fierce, primitive thing. It hurts for the mother and the child. A few months ago, the doctors thought my mom might have cancer. Actually, they were pretty sure she had it.  When my mom came to visit a few weeks after all of the test results (miraculously) came back negative, she told me that when she first learned of the potential cancer, all she could think was, “Thank God it was me (and not you or your brothers).”

After Ruthie had her shots, she got to pick out a sticker. Spiderman. She was still shaky and sweaty from all the struggling and crying when we got in the car. The relief on her face when I told her she would have to have them again until she was two-whole-hands old was precious. It’s now 7:30 and she’s asleep and I’m relieved. Relieved that this day is over and that it wasn’t (quite) as bad as I thought it’d be.