My college classes began in mathematics.
The goal was to teach high school students.
But switched to elementary education.
Only one semester later.
Finally finding my home.
Teaching children was my passion.
Life was so different back then.
Classes and training devoted to safety in schools or discussions did not exist.
No formal training from textbooks or even with the teachers I worked with in the classroom.
Schools were safe.
Children were safe.
Teachers were safe.
But life changes in an instant.
A car accident.
The senior year before graduating.
My degree was on hold.
It was many years before returning to the work force.
Something changed in those years.
Then I began teaching kindergarten through fifth graders.
Each week I had the pleasure of seeing every child in the school.
Soon their names were memorized and loved getting to know them.
Then something changed. Schools were no longer safe.
What used to be a sacred place for children to learn, laugh, and grow turned into a place where people took out their rage on the most innocent members of our society.
Sitting at a child’s desk during a special meeting for the staff.
My heart flew up into my throat.
Procedures were outlined.
In the event something were to ever happen.
It was incredibly difficult to hold back the tears with the other adults around.
I was young.
Not yet a mother.
Yet I was being told details and scenarios of what could happen.
As the meeting concluded we were notified a drill would take place soon.
Yet we were not told when it would happen.
The drill came when I was in a room without children.
My heart beat fast but I knew it was a drill.
Just a drill.
When it was over we were congratulated on a fine job.
We were told any future codes would be real.
Teaching and life resumed, never giving it a second thought.
It was a small town.
Schools should be safe.
I was young.
I was wrong.
The code for the school lock down came when the class was full of students.
Instinctively I flew into action locking the doors.
Huddled the students safely out of sight.
As calmly as I could.
And I continued teaching.
It may sound like an odd practice for those who are not teachers.
Teaching during a lock down.
It is simply what teachers do best.
Their little faces looked to me as the confident teacher.
Not aware a lock down was in place.
I was the only one who stood between their safety.
And whatever was going on outside the door.
Every single one of their lives was in my hands.
It was only after everything was safely completed we learned the truth.
It was an unannounced drill.
I went home and cried myself to sleep.
I cried for what could have been.
I cried for the children.
I cried for myself.
I cried because I knew I would lay down my life for them.
Whenever a school shooting happens it takes me back to that day in my classroom when minutes slowly ticked away and they are forever etched in my memory.
Then my health changed and I could no longer teach.
A new career began.
I became a funeral director’s assistant.
Walking beside families during their darkest hours etches into the deep crevices of my heart.
Then came state disaster response team training.
During times of mass casualty a team needed to be in place.
I voluntarily signed up to be a part of it.
Hoping dearly it was never needed.
Whenever tragedy strikes it takes me back to everything I have witnessed and situations of tragic circumstances.
Friday’s events tragically unfolded in Newtown.
I recognized the sacrifice teacher’s make.
I worked on behalf of the medical examiner’s office.
I walked beside families in their darkest hours.
Stood beside them as they buried their loved ones.
Remembering the first time I saw a tiny casket.
Not aware anything that size was needed in our world.
Oh how it was cruel to be wrong.
In random moments these last few days I cry.
I see myself in the teachers who died protecting the children.
I see myself in the teachers who continued teaching during the shooting.
I see myself in the medical examiner’s office and the tasks before them.
I see myself in the funeral home staff and walking beside the families.
I see myself in the small town community who is forever changed.
I see myself in the parents, because motherhood changes everything.
And I see child sized caskets.
When this is done, I will shut down my computer.
Walk into the room where my children sleep.
And turn on the light.
Just to watch them sleep.
There in the quiet.
Among the innocence of youth.
And the peacefulness of the night.
My heart feels it once again.
Thousands of families.
Too many tiny caskets.
All cruel reminders.
Life changes in an instant.