My-my-my generation came of age in the 60’s and now we’re facing the realities of life in our 60’s. Everyone has their own moment when the mirror turns into a cruel tattler. For some it is the first gray hair(s). That was never a concern for me. I actually wish my hair were grayer. No, my mirror delivered the blow in the form of lines. Maybe I should rephrase that. Some people might think I am talking about cocaine.
A couple of years ago, my mirror pointed out that lines were appearing around my mouth. Years have come and gone, and still it taunts me. I think it has some kind of visual magnet embedded behind the glass because no matter what I may be doing – applying eye makeup, tweezing my eyebrows, fixing my hair – things that have nothing to do with the lower portion of my face - my gaze ends up fixed on my mouth or chin.
I blame my big smile. I once read Mick Jagger used the same defense for his creases; to which Keith or someone else replied “No one is that friendly.” (Let me stop and point out that Mick has a few years on me.) But I’m straying far from my point, and yes, I do have a point here. Actually a very serious one.
Friday morning I was at work, scrolling through my company’s twitter account. Believe it or not, part of my job is to hang out on social media. As a result, I learned of the Connecticut tragedy before most people did. Twitter always gets there first. When I saw “Sandy Hook school on Lockdown.” I thought they were talking about the Sandy Hook that serves as the gateway to the Jersey Shore.
Then, “Shots fired in Newtown, CT School.” Wow, I thought, I’ve heard of Newtown. I think that’s near Danbury.
Then the tweets started falling like snowflakes Oh my goodness I thought it’s an elementary school. When I saw that a teacher was shot in the foot. I began scrolling faster. Tweets about the incident were popping up like crazy, soon outnumbering all the other topics.
My eyes remained glued to my monitor but when I saw the words Kindergarten, and whole class missing, I had to get up and share it with a friend in across the hall. It would be hours before I or anyone else would learn just how tragic this was.
As long as I was up and it was lunch time, I decided to go out for a walk. My lunchtime walks are usually dual-purpose – exercise and meditation. I’m not sure what you’d call this.
As I walked I tried to digest the fact that these were very young children, of the age I’d taught when I was a teacher. Mass shootings are horrific no matter what the age of the victims but there was something about lives being taken when they’d barely ventured out into the world that filled me with survivor’s guilt. Oddly enough my thoughts went to my creased chin.
These little six and seven year olds, they’re gone. They’ll never have lines on their face. All of a sudden I saw my lines as a privilege. Not everyone is blessed with a long life, one filled with enough experiences to earn those lines. Good experiences …….
……as well as bad.
I thought of those periods I never thought I’d get through; the year I taught the fourth grade from hell— the horrendous year of watching my brother succumb to cancer—— broken relationships and betrayals
In the light of the afternoon sun, I began to cherish these incidents for the strength they showed me I possessed; the strength it took to endure, and come out the other side, wiser and stronger, and yes, still retaining my sanity. These children would never get to experience any of them.
But then, maybe they didn’t need to. Maybe this brief lifetime had showed them all they’d come to learn, all they’d come to accomplish, and now God had taken them back.
I am no longer what I’d call a conventionally religious person, but a nebulous image came to me in that moment, only to re-appear a couple of days later, brighter and more firmly outlined. It was Sunday night, I was watching President Obama speak in televised interfaith service in Newtown. He was speaking of the innocence of those twenty children.
The image sprung to life in full color and I remembered where I’d seen it – on an easel in the front of my own kindergarten classroom nearly sixty years ago, when I was their age.