When the news out of Connecticut hit our high school yesterday—progressively breaking in fits and spurts—we were, all of us, uncomprehending. I was sitting in the English office worn, exhausted, but glad it was Friday. That is where the news broke. As the reports poured in, we glimpsed before us the naked heart of human horror.
Our first reaction was shock. Our second was fear. Our high school is four miles from a manufacturer of AR-15 assault rifles—the weapons used in the Portland shooting earlier this week and the Aurora shooting this summer. Our valley is flooded with firearms, and the gun business is about the only thing booming in Northwest Montana. Our fear was—no, it still is—local and real. As a neighborhood high school in the middle of downtown, it would take little for a young man to enter one of our building’s thirty-seven entrances and begin the unknowable.
As we came down from the initial rush of shock and fear, other emotions began to seep through. My fellow Composition teacher wept. I was angry. Other colleagues were wordless. Still the fear was there, and fear brought forth my own naked desire for self-preservation. How could I protect myself or my students from the horror? Is the fight to demand that my students appropriately cite their sources worth my life?
When the bells rang and classes began again, I told my students what was going on. Most of them knew already. Believing that the best that we could do that day was to continue on the best we could, we went to the library to write research papers. On the way, one of the school counselors stopped me in the hallway. How was I feeling? Did I need any time alone? Would I like her to watch my kids for a bit? I surprised myself when I answered her: I was angry, but in that moment, still reeling and contemplating the horrible, the only place I wanted to be was with my kids.
There was nowhere else for me yesterday, or any other.
The president said it well. The children at Sandy Hook Elementary are our children—all of us. My students, likewise, are our students. I teach only in trust, but they are also mine—all of them.
The madness that is at the edge of human consciousness still haunts in the shadows. It haunts my waking, our coming and our going. If we are ever faced with the unknowable horror—and may God help us on that day—I will still be with my students, making them cite their sources.
Correction: An early version of this post listed our school’s entrances and exits at “eighty.” That number is far off: the exact total is thirty-seven. The post has been corrected accordingly.