The Day the First Graders Died

28 Dec

1442318-p-MULTIVIEW Cowboy Boots

“Can I put some rain on my tongue?”  This question was directed at me by a little boy who was walking in the rain with his pre-K classmates at Belle Sherman.  He had leaned his neck back into his snowsuit hood and was facing skyward with his pink tongue hanging out.

He made me think of my five-year-old self and the wonder I felt for everything around me back then–the little girl who ate sap from a tree because it looked like grape jelly and the little girl who stepped on the tar bubbles in the fresh macadam with her new KEDS. Everything seemed new and fresh and possible.

The day the Newtown first graders died stands out to me from the other mass shootings, although it’s been pointed out to us that there was a similar shooting in Scotland a number of years ago. I had forgotten about the Scottish shootings because there have been so many other shootings between that one and the Newtown tragedy. I’m not someone who thinks that children are more important than adults or that their lives are necessarily more precious than those of adults, so why am I reacting this way? All shooting deaths are bad.

But I can understand why President Obama feels so disheartened and why he thinks that the massacre is the worst thing that has happened in his administration. Here he is–the most powerful man in the world–and he finds that he is unable to protect twenty six-year-olds. And that’s part of the answer. There is a feeling of powerlessness that accompanies our grief. We are a society unused to the murder of our most vulnerable group–our children–and it leaves us feeling ashamed and bewildered.

In one of her poems, Emily Dickinson states, “I Dwell in Possibility.” It is this sense of possibility that we often associate with young children, and often have to conjure up for ourselves when we are older. Their lives seem limitless–they have yet to get fired, find out that their lack of ability in math will preclude them getting jobs as engineers, find out that they have the least artistic ability of anyone in their class, and the list goes on. They can imagine themselves as football players or firemen, teachers or taco salesmen. Who knows whom they will become. On the other hand, as the President said, these things cannot be said of the Newtown group. They will have no graduation, no children, nor will they get married. The possibilities for their lives have ceased.

For me the personal tie was the little girl Jessica who wanted cowboy boots for Christmas and left “I love you” notes around the family house. My favorite game when I was growing up was “Cowboys and Indians.” I would put on my Roy Rogers’ cowboy hat, step astride my rocking horse, and cock my brother’s cap pistol. Then I would stow whomever was playing with me in the perambulator, which served as my stagecoach. Jessica wanted a horse; I simply liked to fantacize that I was having an adventure. She was in that part of life where most of us are thinking of the adventure ahead of us and she deserved the chance to find out what lay in store for her.

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