“Mone, [a Malayalam term of endearment a parent or adult would call their child or someone younger than them], I just wanted to tell you that I love you.”
That was the text I got from my dad on December 14, 2012.
I was teaching 2nd grade, and I had just brought my students back into class from lunch and recess.
They settled down and worked on something when my phone beeped, and I read his message.
That year, my classroom was also a tornado shelter, so the walls were made of reinforced steel.
I had terrible reception in that room and the building in general. Still, sporadically I would be able to get text messages.
I rarely had time to read the news during the day, so by the time I heard about any breaking news, it was usually when I got home in the evening or if my sister would send me a message.
But I clearly remember my dad’s text came through that afternoon.
I remember feeling panicked because my dad never texts messages like that to us.
Ten months earlier, he had lost his father and then his mother two weeks later.
He was in so much grief and sometimes would fall into these bouts of depression. We were concerned about his mental and emotional state.
So, it worried me why he would suddenly send such a cryptic message.
Instead of replying, I called my sister and asked her if dad was okay and why he would text me such a thing.
She told me that there was a shooting at a school and that dad was just worried.
She didn’t tell me that it was specifically an elementary school.
Perhaps that was God’s grace because it would have sent me into a tailspin — and I still had a job to do.
But, as soon as I got home, I inundated myself with all the news and press conferences I possibly could.
I even remember saying to my sister when I found out it was at Sandy Hook, “It was at an elementary school?” in complete shock and disbelief.
An elementary school just like mine.
I remember crying that night when I went to bed.
Thinking how easily that could have been my classroom…
Those teachers could have been me.
For a long time after Sandy Hook, I couldn’t watch shows or movies with guns in them because I would have nightmares of getting shot at school.
Before Sandy Hook, we practiced intruder drills — teaching our kids to hide and pretend like they weren’t in the rooms.
I was never a fan, but until that point, most of the shootings were happening at high schools, and, as tragic as that was, I never imagined it could happen at an elementary school.
Who would ever do such a thing?
Yet despite the hundreds of drills I had done…
after Sandy Hook, I became traumatized by it.
My heart would race when I would hear the “signal” to go into hiding.
I would always sweat and breathe really hard while we sat in the dark.
I shudder just hearing the “signal” in my head even now.
When we would practice the drills, I remember I would talk really fast because I was so anxious. Still, I wanted to try to ease my students’ worries by telling them this was just practice, but we still needed to take it seriously and that the only way we could all stay safe was if we did x-y-z.
I didn’t do this to scare them.
I did it because I needed them to trust me enough to know my only priority was keeping them safe.
Every year, regardless of if I was teaching 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 5th grades, I always had students who would tell me all the ways they would keep us safe — break open the window, barricade the doors, beat the intruder up, throw chairs, karate chop them — all the things only kids would think of.
I would laugh and tell them, “Let me worry about keeping you safe; you just do what we practice in the drill.”
Then we’d go through the drill.
And every year, I had students I’d look at while sitting in the dark, hiding behind my desk or under jackets and backpacks, huddled close together. I’d see the worry and fear flash across their faces as they hugged their knees, staying as quiet as possible — as the “signal” over the intercom played repeatedly.
When we got the “all clear,” they would stay still and quiet until I would turn on the lights, and instantly, you could feel a sense of relief wash over us.
Every day I went to work, I knew it was my job to keep them safe, yet every drill scared me.
Because the reality was…
There could have been a day when I had to turn off the lights and lock the door.
There could have been a day when I had to choose their lives over my own.
There could have been a day where I may not have gone home — and neither would they.
But there were also a few teachers who treated these drills very flippantly.
As a part of the drill, we were supposed to lock our doors to the classroom, and principals would walk around to make sure they were locked.
One year, a teacher in my school had students in his room who did not have his door locked. The principal angrily confronted him and asked, “What would you have done if there was an active shooter?”
He replied, “They’ll be in heaven with Jesus.”
He thought that comment would be received as “light” and funny.
This same person has probably posted about how tragic school shootings are and demand something be done.
But it’s also that same sick, twisted, dysfunctional mentality that has found us here today:
Ten years later…
And we’ve lost more innocent children and teachers.
The pain and the grief from such a callous act are overwhelming and unbearable.
The trauma, though, is irreversible.
For me, someone so far removed from Sandy Hook, that day has been etched into my memory. I won’t forget what happened, their faces, and their stories.
But for those who have lost their children, mothers, wives, siblings, friends, coworkers, and teachers — I can’t even imagine.
How did we lose our humanity?
How have we become so cold and numb to the senseless killing of innocent children?
When did protecting a weapon become more important than protecting our children?
These innocent children woke up yesterday morning thinking they were going to school to learn and play with their friends — celebrating the end of another school year…
Just two days away from enjoying their summer vacation after a long year…
Children who had just been celebrated by their families, teachers, and classmates for receiving honor roll awards for all their hard work…
We failed these children.
We failed these teachers.
Children who had dreams of doing things, being someone great.
Children who were loved and adored by their parents and families.
Children whose futures were stolen from them.
Teachers who committed their lives to their jobs gave their utmost for kids I know they loved as their own.
Teachers who willingly put their lives on the line without a second thought.
Teachers who had families and children of their own. Dreams and aspirations that they wanted to achieve.
How do we ever come back from this?
I don’t have any hope that things will change.
All the feigned outrage, public dissent, and noise won’t make any difference.
Even these words, as I write them, feel worthless.
What’s the point?
I’m just adding to the noise.
But, I am just….so….tired.
Tired of seeing pictures of innocent children whose lives were cut too short.
Tired of seeing my fellow teachers gunned down.
Tired of hearing all the talking heads, the opinions, the discussions about all the inane details…
Tired of hearing from politicians who COULD fix this … SHOULD FIX THIS…but refuse to, because they don’t care about anyone‘s lives or well-being. All they care about is their selfish ambition and greed…
Lord, I am just so tired.