I went to school Monday morning. And there they were. Everywhere.
Laughing. Shouting. Skipping.
Bouncing balls and holding hands.
I watched their feet. Noticed their cute pink pinafores. Stared at the parts in the back of their pig-tailed heads.
But I couldn’t look in their faces. I would melt into a puddle of useless brine if I looked into their faces.
For the first ten minutes of the school day, I managed to avoid all of their eyes. All of their rosy cheeks. All of their toothless smiles. And I dashed into my office and locked the door.
It was there, as I looked up at my “wall of feelings” that I felt the tender assault of conviction.
“Um, Susan, you’re the guidance counselor here. If you can’t let yourself go there, how are you going to walk anyone else through there?”
I begged and pleaded with the voice of conviction. Gave it a list of important jobs that I had to do, like photocopying parenting manuals and grading journals. But I couldn’t escape the nag. The internal therapist whose mantra is, “I am not here to make your life more comfortable, but to help you increase your capacity to tolerate discomfort.”
That’s what I preach. It’s what I believe. When we spend our lives trying to feel good, or be happy, or avoid discomfort, we chop off parts of our soul; lose more than half of the reality of existence.
Sadness, anger, disappointment. They are emotions that threaten to drown us. But if we learn how to be with them, we discover that they round us rather than flatten us.
So, I got up from my computer and looked out the window and initiated my brave quest from a distance. I observed some kinders walking up to the office. Two little tottering angels holding hands. En route to deliver an important message or visit the nurse. And the flood gates burst.
Mascara and salt smeared down my cheeks, my shoulders shook, my breath came in cutting gasps. But I looked into their faces. I saw the blend of innocence and knowledge. Confidence and unsurety. Silliness and bravado. And I saw flashes of what it must have looked like in those classrooms on Friday morning. I thought I might throw up, but I kept looking in their faces.
Eventually the soreness in my chest subsided, and I wiped my face and stepped out into the library. I walked outside and began meandering the courtyards and hallways, intentionally focusing on every face I saw, noticing how the pain began to squeeze me, how I wanted to shut down, and then how a small smile or a “Hi, Mrs. Reedy!!” offered a balm, a small handkerchief for the soul.
I spent some time in prayer in the chapel, lit not with 26 candles, but with 28. For all the casualties. For all the faces.
By the time it was morning recess, I could tolerate more. I could sit in the courtyard and watch a game of foursquare. I could listen to the taunting and the cheering. I could hold my arms out for a hug. I felt achy all over, but I also felt eager. Eager to see more faces. To really see faces.
What would it be like if we all looked in each other’s faces? Really looked. Really saw. Really cared. Really recognized that behind those eyes are all the same complex experiences that we wrestle with every day. That behind that half smile is a story. Written with tragedy and triumph, bumps and bruises, rejection and redemption.
We try so hard to categorize bad guys and good guys. The villains and the victors. The heroes and the horrors. We want answers and justice and promises. But all that felt so flimsy to me on Monday morning. There was no fix for this horror. No sense to this nightmare. I could choose hate. I could choose gun control. I could choose more locks and metal detectors and security systems.
Or I could choose love.
I could choose to not avert my eyes from any face that was made in the image of God. I could choose to walk through the dangerous door of pain so that love could enter with me.
There is nothing I can do to repair Sandy Hook. But I can look into faces. I can pull myself away from the pain-free numbness of suburban etiquette and start looking deeper into the window to the soul. Recognizing a piece of me in everyone and a piece of everyone in me. And though the grief may tear me apart, the anger threaten to overwhelm, or the annoyance of our mere humanity induce a primal scream, I cannot hate the child I will find there.
And there is always a child there.