Friday, November 10, 2023

Hearts Walking Around Outside Our Bodies


Making the decision to have a child - it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.

― Elizabeth Stone

I was in the shower when news of the Columbine shooting came over the radio. C came into the bathroom of our little apartment in Gardiner and said, "There's been a shooting at a high school in Littleton." My sister went to Littleton High School at the time. I had to rinse the shampoo out of my hair and scramble into a towel before I could come out and hear the details--different high school. Other people's sisters and brothers killed.

I heard about the Sandy Hook shooting on NPR over Saturday morning pancakes--my car at the time didn't have a radio, so I didn't hear the news on the drive home. I spent the weekend weeping and grabbing my kids, who were in second and sixth grade, to hug them at random times. I didn't know I'd been holding my breath until five o'clock Monday morning when a snow day was called and I inhaled deeply for the first time all weekend.

The call about Lewiston came Wednesday night. C's college, across the river from Lewsiton, would be closed the following day due to an "active shooter" event--at least sixteen dead, several more wounded. The next morning, eighteen dead and the shooter at large. Grocery stores and businesses around the state closed. The twins' colleges, more than an hour's drive away from the shootings, suspended classes and organized activities, because no one knew where the murderer was. No one felt safe.

Thursday and Friday passed in a surreal state of dread. There was no reason to suppose the shooter would find his way to our corner of the state--or our children's. Yet low-flying planes and helicopters passed over all day. What could they possibly see from up there? You know the rest of the story--they found his body Friday night. Self-inflicted gunshot wound. For some reason they always kill themselves after inflicting maximum damage on innocent victims, never before.

I breathed a sigh of relief when my kids graduated eighth grade. They made it through elementary school without being shot. And again when they graduated high school. We live in a country where it is an achievement to make it through thirteen years of school without being killed in the classroom or the hallways or on the playground by a man wielding a weapon of war. But getting through school does not guarantee our children safety from being blown apart by bullets fired from high capacity guns. There is still college, the movie theater, church, big box stores, concerts, night clubs, and now bowling alleys and bars.

I do not want to write about this today. I do not want to think about my children walking around as vulnerable as hearts outside of bodies. Of the child killed last week. Of the adults killed who were somebody's children. Of the children being bombed and killed and terrorized in Ukraine and Gaza and Israel. All I know is that until we learn to value life over death, human hearts over weapons of war, none of us will ever be safe. 

A version of this post went out recently to subscribers of my newsletter, along with some bonus material. Subscribe here and receive a free PDF of my illustrated short essay "Eleven Ways to Raise a Wild Child."

*Header photo is an Andy Goldsworthy-inspired sumac leaf design by C, E, and Z, circa 2016.

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