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We Talk of Lock-Down Drills

Originally published Monday, 11 November 2013.

Afternoon comes and I pick them up, weaving among the little ones who walk in squiggly lines, one sneaker in front of the other, waddling with the weight of backpacks and rules, the speed-walker gait of youth, energy pressing them toward the door, toward home.

And I hold the hand of mine but she lets go because she is big now, she writes down her own homework and she walks by herself to the bus. So I walk behind her linked to her little brother, still small enough to believe that safe is a mother’s hand. “Today we had a lock-down drill,” says sister, breezily–as if she just announced the school lunch menu. Her brother pipes up, “we all hid together behind the bookcase!”– as if he just announced hide and seek. And in my mind’s eye I see it, I see them huddled together like one squirming bundle of life, with one set of grown-up arms to shield 23 little people, legs and arms and souls.

And like a terrible slide show, my mind begins flashing up images of huddled children.

Newtown. Auschwitz. Haiti. India.

Classrooms. Boxcars. Tent Cities. Brothels.

And then I imagine my own children in the back of their classroom and I think that I cannot bear the weight of it all, that I could slide down to the floor and cry, because of evil and because of pain, and I feel the cracking inside but I take a breathe and grit a smile, and I begin to swing my little one’s hand, and I ask about homework.

Later I think of teachers, the teachers who implement lock-down drills, teachers who see the images that I see and know what I know, but they huddle up anyway, and they are confident and efficient, and the kids think it’s a game. I think of the teachers who then go right back to addition drills and Greek history as if it’s normal to huddle children together and hide them. But they do it, and they do it so that my daughter can say “lock-down drill” like it’s normal. It’s the teachers who make it normal.

And it’s my job to absorb the blow of the truth, at least for now. For now, safety is a teacher’s confident voice and a mother’s smile. For now, life is found in swinging my littlest up in my arms and letting him lay his head on my shoulder. Safety is found in snuggling up with my daughter and telling her she’s strong, compassionate, nurturing and beautiful. Safety is pulling my almost-teenage boy into a part-headlock, part-embrace because even when he resists, there is no one on this earth who does not need a hug.

So we talk of lock-down drills. But we also talk of truth and life. We speak of the Father who sees all, knows all, and makes our souls secure no matter what happens to our bodies. We embrace wonder and joy and silliness. And even if a little part of me breaks apart every single day, I come with my broken little pieces to God. I come unmasked and undone and I let him refashion me, bit by bit. And somehow he uses the pain and the weight to press me into more of his image, toward trust, toward dependence, toward Him.