Natalie, Sam, and Sandy Hook

by melissakiefer

The day of the Sandy Hook shooting, I realized it was my Natalie’s birthday. My Natalie who should have been twenty. She claimed I was this great influence on her, and it’s that claim that makes me feel guilty—it wasn’t enough. I guess teachers, friends, loved ones..can’t always make the demons go away. I wondered what she was thinking as she made the choice to jump, and as she fell, and right before she hit hard ground.  Or maybe she felt like she had no choice. Hundreds loved her, lifted her. One pulled her down?

Well she was precious, like a flower. She grew wild, wild but innocent. A perfect prayer in a desperate hour. She was everything beautiful and different. Stupid boy, you can’t fence that in. Stupid boy, it’s like holding back the wind.

I watched coverage of policemen leading shoulder-linked Connecticut kindergartners out of a school that would never again be a place of innocence and imagined thousands of bruised knees hit the floor in anger, in wailing, in questions and prayers for tiny victims who had no choice. Who had no choice. Same old, same old stupid boy.

That same day, I watched the “Midday with Mike” online streaming where he interviewed a Sam who didn’t look like my Sam. A Sam in a wheelchair with bloated face and eye patch advocating for St. Jude’s pediatric brain cancer research. Samstrong. A strength beyond strength. So I rummaged through the boxes (just as I did a month ago to find Natalie’s English journal) until I found a piece of Sam’s art— a professional-looking cartoon, so unique, so Sam, pictures depicting the play Julius Caesar in his small, precise pencil-writing. I wanted the innocence and fun of his freshman and sophomore year back.

Before the headache.

Now he says he’s honestly not afraid to die. I do not want to say these are his last days. Because I choose to fight for my students, fight like taking bullets from a gunman while hiding kids in cabinets and closets, like catching one who’s falling, like not giving up. I choose to see a runner. A mischievous smile. An artist and cartoonist. A beautiful, brilliant brain. Who is using his every hour for others.  Same smart, perfect perfect boy.

This world is screwed up. I see examples of evil, the sickeningly inhumane. The bad and unfair. And I see the victorious, humble, heroic. The moments, stories, memories, the pictures that restore our faith in humanity. Sometimes, ironically, those moments are smack in the middle of the catastrophe. That’s the paradox that makes life so Thick. Blurry. Weighty. I understand that man holds the potential to be both horrifically evil and extraordinarily good. I want the good. I want to be the good. I was a part of the Fall of Man. And I want to climb, sweat pouring, reaching, grabbing, grasping all the way back to Eden.  
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