“It wasn’t so bad, Ima,” he assures me. “It was a good thing we were hiding in the bathroom because five of us had to pee!”
“Were you scared?” I ask.
“No, we were only scared that we would lose our hearts.”
“You know, our hearts. The hearts on the chart that we get when we’re good. Our teacher said if we made noise she would take some hearts away. So we had to be really quiet.”
Last Friday, my son spent an hour in the bathroom with his teacher and 16 other first grade classmates at his Jewish day school. They were on lockdown.
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“It was just a drill,” he explains, “just like we’ve done before. This time it was a drill for the policemen to make sure they know what to do.”
No, honey, I think to myself. It wasn’t a drill. This time was the real deal.
While I sat watching the news and texting other parents, all I could do was pray and trust the school’s teachers and administrators and our police department (and I do). And while we learned early on that there was no stranger on the school’s campus at any point, “only” a threatening message to a teacher, all I could think about was how scared you had been the night before, after hearing a scary story in class about a monster, and how now the monster was potentially so much closer.
How can I tell you there’s no such thing as monsters, my sweet boy, when there are monsters all around, at schools, movie theaters, houses of worship? We send you to this school, conveying to you that we believe you are safe there. We take you to movie theaters, enjoying an afternoon of family bonding. We go to our synagogue every week and I tell you it’s our family’s safe space, where you can play freely, roam the building you’ve come to know as a second home, and talk to adults who might otherwise be categorized as strangers. In these places I tell you that you’re safe because you should be. No monsters here, my sweet.
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Alas, I can hold you close but I can’t keep you a baby forever. Sadly, some of your innocence is already gone. This real world into which you were born is scary. There are some monsters, and there are those who are not monsters but who commit monstrous acts. And every time I kiss you goodbye I pray you stay far away from all kinds of evil. It’s all I can do.
There’s so much talk these days about gun laws and mental illness and I don’t even know where to begin. All I know is that you spent an hour in lockdown at school. You know what a lockdown drill is. You are only 6; you know too much.
My favorite story from the Talmud comes to mind: Rabbi Meir was once robbed, and he prayed that the sinners should die. His wife, Beruriah, advised him that instead he should pray that their sins cease to exist. If there are no more sins, she explained, there will no longer be sinners.
So too for us, my child. I pray that the evil in the world ceases to exist so that there will no longer be monsters who threaten you. I make no promises; I offer only my prayers.
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My prayers and my heart. You are my heart, my sweet boy. You are my heart.
(Thank God, the alert was the result of a malfunctioning system from a college in another state. There was never a threat on our campus, and everyone is fine.)