I recently read A Sandy Hook Parent's Letter to Teachers on the Education Week website. It is a profound and humbling and beautiful thing. Sandy Hook has been on my mind during this back-to-school week. Every year, part of the back-to-school process includes teaching my students the safety procedures for fire, earthquake, and lockdown. This year, we have "lock out" and "lock down." We have new posters detailing what we're supposed to do. "Lock out" means the danger is outside. "Lock down?" Well.
When I practiced the lock down procedure this year, it felt like no other year. I found myself thinking and rethinking where the right place in the room was for my students to gather, and was there a better place to hide them, and what if, what if, what if ...? Strangely enough, my students had less "What if" questions than in any previous year I can think of. Perhaps they remember last year, when the Clackamas Town Center shooting (right near our school) was followed by Newtown. Perhaps, like me, the what- ifs opened into a great abyss of fear so frightening and terrible and real that to speak it would give it too much power. (I find I have a new appreciation for the idea of Voldemort as "he who must not be named.") As I sat in the dark in the corner away from the windows with my students, whispering quietly to them about what a great job they were doing being quiet as we practiced lock down, the chill of last year's events was tangible.
When I got home that night, I searched online to see if there was anything about the psychological after effects of Sandy Hook on teachers like me, teachers who weren't at the school but felt that connection with their colleagues, and with the sudden reality of lock down what-ifs. I found articles about parents who were concerned that lock down drills traumatized their young children. I found articles about how teachers should be trained to look for signs of mental health issues in their students. I found articles about how teachers should be armed, and what new safety procedures schools should implement. I found nothing about how teachers were dealing with this new emotional reality, how it had affected us. Was I alone? Were other teachers feeling like I did during their first lock down drill of the year? I don't know.
Then I read this letter from the parent of a Sandy Hook victim. It was as if she knew. The letter left me humbled. One section, in so many, stood out for its remarkable demonstration of the kind of forgiveness and open heart that I think of as Godly. In her letter, Nelba Marquez-Greene writes:
While I pray you will never find yourself in the position of the teachers at Sandy Hook, your courage will support students like my son, who have lived through traumas no child should have to.
Your courage will support students who are left out and overlooked, like the isolated young man who killed my daughter. At some point he was a young, impressionable student, often sitting all alone at school. You will have kids facing long odds for whom your smile, your encouraging word, and your willingness to go the extra mile will provide the comfort and security they need to try again tomorrow.
This parent, in a grief deepened by time, was able to think of the man who murdered her daughter as one who was "left out and overlooked" and in need of a teacher's love. She was able to think of him, and ask us to think of him, as one of our charges. She was able to take that chilling lock down drill moment for me and broaden it into a reminder of the great, overarching truth of my job, the calling that rises above test scores and bulletin boards and Common Core standards and funding problems. I owe this parent a profound debt of gratitude. From her own personal horror she was able to reach out and speak these words I so needed to hear. That is a Godly act. That is what "love thy enemies" can look like and what it can do.