pulled by heart
the hour hand had just nudged itself past 5. the tableau out the window was black-on-black. the bedsheets, warm, toasty warm. the soft folds of the flannel, pulled snug against my shoulders, invited one last episode of sleep. all i wanted was one more hour. but then i remembered.
the light down the hall was already splintered through the crack under the door. the soft bells of an alarm were faintly chiming. the whoosh of the shower broke the pre-dawn hush of a house just beginning to rouse. i knew my firstborn was up and getting dressed. i knew he’d soon be barreling into the morning’s bitter cold. the headlights of his little black car would shine down the alley, turn toward the city, to the west side, to the streets where just a week ago a bullet pierced the window of the pre-K classroom in the school where he teaches. the bullet shattered glass. sailed across the room, ramrodded a metal pipe, ricocheted. hit no one. thank God. but the cluster of little 4-year-olds, who by the grace of God had been clustered at that instant on the far side of the classroom, away from the bank of sidewalk-level windows, they heard the blast, the ping, and at last the thud of the bullet dropping to the classroom’s hard tile floor. deadly sounds. sounds that shouldn’t be heard in a pre-K classroom. or any classroom anywhere.
a week ago, at 2:46 p.m., i got this text from my firstborn:
There’s been a shooting outside school. We are in lockdown, but I am okay, so are my students. Do not call, I don’t want there to be any noise in my room.
a mother’s heart all but stops when she reads those words.
it would be another hour till he called, till i heard the rush of air i knew as his voice. it was over now, he told me.
the children had all been shepherded into the hands of parents. or grandparents. or some adult who’d get them home. he, too, was headed home, he told me. shaken, so shaken by the news of what happened in the pre-K. shaken by the holes in the metal screen and the pane of glass. shaken by the glass that shattered in what looked like a cobweb of shards. shaken by the long hour’s lockdown, not knowing the whole time — as he tried to keep his sixth graders quiet — whether the shooter was inside or out of the building. shaken by footsteps that ran down the hall, toward his classroom, where the door had been locked. shaken by the news that a mother who’d come to school early to take home her young child had stepped out the school’s front door into the direct line of two men with guns chasing down the sidewalk, shooting. the mother threw her little one to the sidewalk, then threw herself — hard — on top. she waited, she’d told a teacher, lay stone still, not knowing if she’d be hit. fully expecting the thud of a bullet to her back. or worse.
monday, my kid came home with word that 46 kids of 180 kids hadn’t come to school that day. parents kept them home. they’re not used to bullets piercing classroom windows. not even on the west side of chicago. he said, too, that the only two white kids in the school, kids whose parents teach there, they’d been pulled. “a social experiment they weren’t willing to risk any longer,” was how he put it.
and then he said, “mom, if i tell you something, promise not to freak out.”
“there’s apparently a turf war in the neighborhood, and (school) is in the middle of it.”
and so as you hear those words, as they barely begin to settle onto your eardrums, onto your heart, you somersault into prayer. your every inhale breathes in prayer. your exhale begins the next, an endless loop of prayer after prayer.
you settle yourself down, slowly. over the course of hours, as you turn round and round the heartache, the insanity of it all, as you sift through the shards, examine from all angles. imagine the worst. consider the kids who call those streets home. who can’t leave.
you pray mightily.
and then, yesterday on the front page of the newspaper, there was a story with eery echoes. it was a story that happened last friday, just five hours after the bullet shattered the window of my kid’s school. it happened three miles due south. a bullet — out of nowhere — pierced the driver’s side window of a parked car where a young 25-year-old woman was sitting, talking on her cellphone to her dad in san diego. suddenly, he told the reporters who had called him, she started to say her head hurt, her head hurt. then the phone went dead. the dad in san diego couldn’t figure out what happened. frantic, he called his daughter’s boyfriend, who called her roommate, who ran out onto the street and down the block where she found the woman slumped, near dead. the woman died from a bullet that “came out of nowhere;” two men chasing down the street with guns. the stray bullet — a bullet not meant for her — killed her.
as i sat there reading the news story, tracing the lines that connected her story to the one i knew from my own kid’s school — same day, same short span of hours, same damn scenario, guns and chasing and flying bullets — i shuddered at the tragedy, shuddered for the father who now told the story, who now tried to explain how — as she sat in her car on her quiet street on her way home from a job where she’d just gotten a promotion, in a city she loved and had moved to after college — he was now burying his daughter, “the only one in her preschool class who could read, a straight-A high school student, a magna cum laude college graduate,” the father told the reporters.
and so this morning, knowing my kid was getting dressed to go back to the school where the pre-K window is now covered in plywood, while they wait for new glass to come, while they all pray for calm in the streets, i yanked back the sheets, and i planted my wobbly feet on the cold wood floor of my bedroom. i shuffled down the stairs, and i opened the fridge. i piled turkey on slabs of bread. i tossed in an apple. i poured a tall to-go cup of coffee.
not for one minute could i send my kid out into the cold, back to school, back to streets where a gang war wages, and not do the feeble things a mama does: i slathered mustard on bread, i folded slices of deli turkey, i tucked it all in the little brown bag he uses day after day. i prayed the whole while. i prayed mightily.
when he tumbled down the stairs, and saw me standing there with my mustard knife in hand, he looked surprised. “mommo, what are you doing here?”
just packing lunch, was all i said. he knows me well, my kid of 22 years. he knew without me saying so that that sandwich was super-packed. stacked with prayer upon prayer. besides the turkey.
as i closed the door behind him, as i told him i loved him, called out,”be safe,” i traced a sign of the cross onto the back of his thick winter coat. it’s all i could do.
it’s the truth of motherhood, or one of them anyway: we’re armed with so very little. especially when up against a world of flying, piercing, life-taking bullets.
yet we don’t abandon our station: we rise before the dawn, we shuffle down the stairs, we do what little we can. we pack a lunch, with a motherlode of prayer.
we are pulled by heart out of slumber. we are pulled by heart into prayer. deep into prayer.
what will we do? what can we do? is there any way out of this insanity that spills blood on the front seats of cars, on front porches, and playgrounds, and too many sidewalks and streets in this city?
Reblogged this on A Life Interrupted and commented:
A must read!!
oh, my. thank you!
I got goosebumps reading this, which I often think are angels communicating something good is ahead. I don’t understand why reading such a story, I would get that message, but I have to trust. Then I got tears at the end! I am sending this around the internet as far as it can go. I’ve been pulled, tugged at, and touched so deeply, by this story, Barbara. How close it came – now, all those children and your son have to deal with the effects of trust in life broken. I pray that they heal, and that the gang wars end. I’m so sad that this happened.
i love your goosebumps, and your understanding of angels putting them there…..i will trust, too…..
Barbara, I’m so sorry for your pain & worry. Be so so so very proud of your son—the world needs many more like him. Every day I see kids who need support and understanding–my hope is that the violence subsides so they can learn & grow into peace-loving adults. Thank you for sharing your prayers…
dear dear gail, i am so proud of that boy who in his quiet brave way is doing God’s work, is loving those kids, is teaching them that bullets won’t keep him away. thank you for reaching across the table and taking my hand. xoxox
Frightening, tragic, and needs to stop–how? I wish that I knew. Thank you for sharing this so beautifully–let your son continue his brave and soothing presence in safety.
thank you, dear liz, for coming to the table this morning…..and for wrapping your questions in prayer….
Tears are dripping down my face…so tragic…so frightening…so sad…so wrong. I wish I knew the answer…for now…prayer seems to be all we can do. Thanks, Barbara for touching my heart, again.
maybe if we all rocket blast our prayers…..
I am writing this through my tears. Beautiful as always. A friend of ours was the boss of the girl who was killed last week. So awful.
oh. my. God. oh, i am so so sorry. your connection to the tragedy is all too real. i am covered in heartache. and goosebumps. the not-good kind…..
Outside, it’s snowing; inside, (as I attempt to get my head around the magnitude of this searing essay) it’s raining – and I am letting the tears come… My heart staggers with yours beneath this weight of turf wars and senseless violence. How do we protect our children? (As loving mothers, are not all children our children?) Is human life so expendable that we skim the headlines, note the day’s casualties, flip to the entertainment section or change the channel? Why do we continue to sit by while bullets fly in our city streets? How many more hearts must be shattered like that classroom window, like that driver’s side window, before something is done? Heartbreaking, all of this, incomprehensible. And it won’t stop raining in here…
my beautiful…..as human beings all children are our children, and no one lives that more beautifully, knowingly than you……
As I read the beginning of your email, I sit and imagine I’m next to you enjoying the sounds of the house coming to life and knowing my kids are near by. I taste the oatmeal and smell the coffee and feel a now smoothly shaved cheek kiss me. And I kiss it. And then I’m stunned. A knot tightens in my stomach. I start to shake. I read about the girl. The school. the shooting. All the shootings. It has become worse. Maybe we all do need guns. But the girl wouldn’t have fired back. She would still be dead. Are we longing for dodge city? At least then we knew our assailants. Had a chance.
What are we to do???
Andrea Lavin Solow
i love you for being by my side the whole way. straight through to the plaintive question: what are we to do?
Too close to home. Too close. I wish I knew the answer. Prayer has got to help. I think of the Seamus Haney poem, “The Cure at Troy:”
History says, don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.
Praying for your boy, for all our boys, that they stay safe.
seamus heaney is always the answer.
we pray for the longed-for tidal wave of justice. a truce to come here on the streets of this so-broken world.
Is it possible to get this sent as a press release so news readers can read your words as a mom? Would your son mind? I think this is so important, I can’t stop thinking about it.
oh, gosh, i am actually pretty shy about that. and i would need to talk to him. the school, of course, was trying to keep a relative calm so the families weren’t scared beyond scared. they have young children whose whole selves they worry about. but bless you for thinking along those lines. and let me mull it. bless you.
I’ve got that shy thing too! (I emailed Lee Woodruff to review my book about living with brain injury, oh the guts it took to ask…..)
Your son, the kids and families must be thought of first. Maybe after some time has passed, and maybe some others will have a different view than I, another mother, has.
Wishing you and your son recovery from this!!
Whoa. I hadn’t heard of that one. Too damn close! They’re all to close tho, to someone.
What can be done? Well there are of course money things, but the best kind of thing I know Will and the many other fine teachers out there are doing. What I and my fellow “project queen” nursed did for 20 years as we pounded the Eisenhower corridor visiting families where these kids come from . Consistently.
2 things: show respect and command respect.
BAM! OMG, I am so upset to hear this. I am reporting from an inner-city preschool right now, in Springfield MA, and it’s a lot of the same up here. WAY TOO CLOSE A CALL. I am thinking of you. email me if you get a chance. xoxoxo
i saw, when i read your post, that you were posted in an inner-city preschool. WAY too close, indeed. miss you. xoxox
First, BAM, I am so proud of your son for doing the work he is doing. And while there aren’t many clear answers that will solve this situation of guns on the street and innocent children being shot and killed, I feel one way to start to solve the problem is through better education. Bless your son for doing his part to make that happen! A mom never stops worrying, never stops praying. Motherhood and the worries that accompany that title is a constant in life. I’ll be praying for him and his students as well as so many other children and teachers in the city. They all deserve peace and security.
bless you, and thank you for prayers for him, for “his kids,” and for all kids…..
Dear God in heaven! I will. NEVER understand this, but we’re not MEANT to understand this insanity. Oh my, prayers and yes, the sign of the cross (which has been a symbol of great comfort for me, especially of late). xoxo
my beautiful pjv, sending a hundred signs of the cross back to you, too, sweetie, as you keep your blessed vigil. thank you for taking time to come visit the little old chair. xoxoxo
Lord have mercy! Am just seeing this after a long day. I am sad to say I am stunned but not surprised. This city is out of control. How grateful I am your lovey and his kids are all safe. But as you and others at the table have said, all children are our children, and we mourn so for the lost. I don’t know what the answer is. Sometimes all we can do is try to keep spreading the light and love. Love you.
out of control, indeed. we were out driving last night through placid suburbia and W was saying how deeply he was struck — in ways he hadn’t before paid too much attention — to the depth of calm and sense of safety that is so taken for granted in these parts. which led to a long conversation, once again (lots of long conversations these days), about being a young young child growing up where you’re not allowed to leave the house. and when you do, you duck for cover….
Yes, yes. Have been thinking a lot of those same thoughts.
May that all that love, the “bread of life” that you sandwich your family in and conjure into those early morning meals, and into evening comfort foods, sustain you all. It is that love that give your son the courage to just show up. He can’t solve the terrible criminal problems or poverty of the community, but he is surely conjuring his love and courage into those children and parents. There may not be safety outside, but he is helping to grow safety inside and that is a start. Bless those who have the courage to just show up.
key words: “and that is a start.” that we all find the place to begin. as our beloved dorothy day, quoting therese of lisieux, put it: by little and by little. by little bits of courage, by little bits of kindness.
by finding our sacred foothold. one baby step after another. xoxoxo
I don’t tell you often enough how much I continue to love your writing…………..what I don’t like is what’s going on in our city and the world – way to many deranged and angry people. Scary, very scary………..On a more pleasant note, give me some details of you and our boy! Love, Laurie
oh, dear laurie, so so wonderful to find you here. will send email. xoxoxox
Oh my! “We don’t abandon our station” no not ever!
Thank you for this Barbara, my prayers go with you.
thank you, dear ramona….thank you thank you…..