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Holding Space

On 9/11/01, I was in my second week as a 2nd grade teacher at an elementary school in Silver Spring, Maryland, just outside of Washington D.C. The news of what was happening that morning came to me by way of a teacher’s aide, who entered my room and whispered the words, “We’re being attacked.” She had little other information, as the events were still unfolding. But her words communicated a sense of imminent danger.

She exited my room to inform other teachers, leaving me standing there full of fear and confusion, with a classroom of 7-year-olds I barely knew. I wanted to cry. I wanted to seek shelter. I wanted to run from that room to be with my family.

But I pulled myself together and distractedly carried on with my lesson, in the hopes of sparing my young students from the crippling fear I was experiencing.

As the events of 9/11 continued to unfold, panicked parents began flooding into the school, desperate to be with their children. We were all afraid that day, but the urgency to immediately remove their children from school was particularly elevated. As our fearless leader calmly scrambled to put a safe, emergency dismissal procedure in place, she said something of the following effect to one of the parents, “I don’t understand the urgency. Your children are safe in school.” to which the parent, from one of the many families in our school who had escaped a war-torn home country, replied, “In my country, schools are hit first.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about that day, as I desperately try to process the horrific events at Sandy Hook; the senseless loss of innocent lives, the fear, the heroism, the way we’re all forever changed because of it.

Like many parents, it was with trepidation and a heavy heart that I sent my children to school on Monday morning. The presence of a police car in the school’s parking lot generated more fear and sadness than the sense of security it was meant to communicate. If it could happen at Sandy Hook, it could happen anywhere. It could happen in my children’s school. It could happen on our playgrounds or in our churches or in our own homes. In our movie theaters or malls…

And that’s absolutely terrifying, because there’s no way to prepare ourselves or our children for all the possibilities of unpredictable, senseless violence that may occur. As a parent of three young children, the impact of what happened at Sandy Hook is deeply personal. I’ve cried a thousand tears for each of those young souls, the heroes who died trying to protect them, and the families who are suffering. I see those children in my own children’s eyes. I feel a heartbreaking fraction of what it must feel like to walk in those parents’ shoes.

I’m sure I’m not alone in my fear. But I can tell you this, your children are as safe at school as they are anywhere. As the stories of heroism coming out of this horror in Newtown demonstrate, your children’s teachers will protect your children as their own. I trust in that. As a teacher on 9/11, we each set aside our personal concerns for ourselves and our loved ones in order to tend to the safety of our students, first and foremost. We held our tears, in place of an outward appearance of calm; we stayed, when we wanted to run. A year later, when the area was under attack by the beltway sniper, teachers took turns standing guard by the doors to ensure that all of our students could safely enter and exit the building. That sort of protection for our students is not part of any teacher preparatory program. But it comes with the acute awareness of the responsibility of caring for someone else’s child. And though, in the wake of what’s happened, it’s still terrifying to let my children out of my sight, I trust they’re in good hands when they’re with their teachers at school.

I had cookie recipes to share, with stories of Santa Claus and Christmas magic, but writing about cookies just feels so trivial right now. Another time… For now, I need to focus my energy on holding space for those families in Newtown and rejoicing in every moment I have with my own family. If nothing else, these events should serve as a crucial reminder to appreciate every second with the ones you love. Hug your children often, celebrate their precious lives, be thankful for every moment (even the frustrating ones). Every second is precious.

Prayers and love for the families who are suffering. My heart is with you.

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