I’ve known for a few days what I wanted to write here for my friends in Sandy Hook. Then today Arapahoe tasted this experience. I know that it made things even harder for my friends in Newtown. It scared up ghosts for me, too. But I still feel this is true, so here goes:
For a year now you have lived with the ghost of “one year ago today” and “the last time I did this.” You have stopped a thousand times and thought, one year ago today I was (fill in the blank), and I was…so innocent…I had no idea what was coming…or I was annoyed at something so trivial. One year ago today she was alive, and we…. The last time I taught this it was to this child lost or that child forever changed or I was my old self. The last time I did this I thought my life would be…
You want the anniversary gone, over. I wanted to sleep through the anniversary; go to sleep on April 19 and wake up the 21st. Oh, how I dreaded it.
I’ve been saving this bit for the day you need it. The morning will tick by: one year ago right now…one year ago right now…one year ago right now…
And then the moment arrives. On April 20, 2000, I had been living with the fear that I could never love another student I hadn’t loved before the shootings. I thought I would be too afraid of losing them. At 11:20, when we released 13 balloons, I was holding the hand of a student—one of my sophomores—that I hadn’t known exactly one year before. She had come to me and shyly slipped her hand in mine, and we stood in silence, and I thought, “How could I have doubted? Of course I love this kid, and I will love a thousand others,” and in the 14 plus years since, I have.
At 9:35 December 14, it will be time to lay the ghosts of “one year ago today” to rest. At 9:36 you will know that “one year ago today” you were pushed onto a path you would never have chosen for yourself, and today, you are 365 steps through the darkness. You are 365 steps closer to that place of peace and strength for which you yearn. One year ago today, you wondered whether you could make it to this moment, and you have. For the next 365 days, you can rest assured that you are stronger than you were one year ago today.
When the moment is over, and 9:35 passes, you will know that one year ago today you shivered in the dark, lost and alone, terrified of the monsters that lurked. Today, you have companions on the journey. You have faced the demons, and while you haven’t killed them (a few of mine reared their ugly heads today), you know what they are, and you know you have survived them time and again, so you can manage to do battle with them some more. I promise, the demons get tired after a while. They lose interest. They let you stop and rest in the sunlight when it breaks through, and it will break through more often this year than last.
I once wondered whether April 20th would ever be just a day to me again. Now I know it will not, not ever, but I am surprised at how often 11:20 comes and goes while I am busy, and I don’t notice. Sometimes it’s hard, and others, it’s surprisingly easy. I don’t know what determines which it will be. I only know that one year ago today, I didn’t know any of you, but you were all in my heart. Today, you are my friends. Because of you, my life is more blessed than it was one year ago today. I wish there had been no need for us to meet, but playing the cards none of us ever asked to be dealt, I am richer than I was one year ago today.
Thank you for making me part of your lives.