A teacher goes to Washington, leaves heart in the classroom.

On Friday, December 14, something terrible and unthinkable happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and I became a teacher again, if only in my heart.

I’m in the process of letting go of a lot of things that no longer serve a purpose in my life, learning to accept and move past the fact that certain things are never going to happen or are never going to happen again. It’s a difficult change of seasons. One of those things is being a teacher. In my heart, I always have been and always will be a teacher, but in my daily existence, I do other things now.

Teddy bear at the foot of the State of Connecticut's Christmas tree.

Teddy bear at the foot of the State of Connecticut’s Christmas tree.

For weeks now my loft/office has been piled up with boxes pulled from closets. My normally orderly, organized, Virgo tendencies seem to have surrendered or just to have allowed themselves to take it slowly.

But this was it. This was the weekend that everything was going to go, like ripping off a bandage. Just go. Get it over with. Let it be done.

Then Friday someone asked if I’d heard about the school shooting and I was so mired in the other things I do now that it didn’t even register, much the same as my reaction to  the traffic alerts that come through when a five-block area is in gridlock due to a suspicious package.

On my way to get a late lunch / early dinner, I passed by the television in our inner lobby and saw clips of President Obama’s tearful message. Like you, I was stunned and heartsick at the news.

Then I walked to the outer lobby, where a few years ago a lovely young woman came up to (re)introduce herself as one of my former students.   There I passed a man who it is reasonable to assume is a lobbyist, equally reasonable to assume a Republican, who was in that moment a concerned and protective father, escorting a little girl with a pink backpack. We exchanged glances that in a flash said what words could not express and for a fleeting moment, this little corner of Washington DC, just a few blocks from the White House, was a place where parents who love their children were united, unfortunately  for the most tragic of reasons.

Candlelight vigil beginning to gather outside the White House, 12/14/2012.

Candlelight vigil beginning to gather outside the White House, 12/14/2012.

I’d already planned to walk over to see the new National Christmas Tree after work, and I wasn’t sure I still wanted to do that. I didn’t want to go home, either, so I did take the walk.  The tree is surrounded by a pathway lined with smaller trees, one for each of the fifty states and U.S. territories.

A collection of teddy bears was already beginning to appear at the base of the tree for Connecticut, some with political messages that led to discussions among a few passersby, and DC was back to being DC, but I was not.

I was a teacher, imagining the horror of trying to protect innocent charges  from a troubled mind that saw evil as its only means of relief.

The State of Connecticut's tree at the National Christmas Tree Pageant of Peace, December 14, 2012.

The State of Connecticut’s tree at the National Christmas Tree Pageant of Peace, December 14, 2012.

As I’ve sorted through this, the one thing I have not asked myself is “How could this happen?” The sad truth is one name came to mind immediately as the student I knew who, but for the grace of God, could have eventually resorted to something so horrific. As I thought about him, another name came to mind, and then another.

One of the hardest things to do as a teacher is to help students through any traumatic news, especially when it affects you, too. In my last year in the classroom, I had to walk into first period on four separate occasions to give “the talk” about a death in the student population.

Only one of those was caused by violence at the hands of another. It was one too many and those were four talks too many.  The last time I walked in, the most cynical girl in the class said, “It’s ok, we know. We’re ok,” and that is what broke my heart.

Safely tucked away  in these boxes are the memories of the kids I still refer to as “my kids” — the funny memories, the sad memories, and even the very troubling memories. I’m still not ready to let those go.

Earlier I re-blogged Omawarisan’s signature eloquence about first responders and his thoughtful compilation of resources.  I hope he won’t mind my adding these thoughts to that piece. Along with my heartfelt gratitude and empathy toward those fine folks, my heart goes out to those teachers who will have to help their students get through this experience and who are forever changed by what happened in their world on Friday, December 14.