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Emily Morrison Emily Morrison
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Our grief

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Is there anything anyone can really say that touches the depth of grief a parent suffers over the loss of a child? I'm not sure there are words to express the profound sadness the parents, teachers, children and community members of Newton, Connecticut are feeling right now. As a mother and teacher, my heart is broken and with the victims of this unfathomable atrocity.

Out of touch with the media during the work day, I was sitting in a Friday afternoon department meeting when a colleague asked me if I had heard the news. Thankfully, I've heard this question sparingly in my life, but every time I have, it sends a shiver down my spine. I was in college during the Columbine shooting and somewhat insulated from the world at the time. Still a child myself, I had no way of looking at such tragedy in a manner that felt real. I simply couldn't grasp what others were going through.

Two years later, on Sept. 11, 2001, I was in a classroom full of freshmen when another colleague walked into the room and whispered the same question in my ear, 'Have you heard the news?' Our principal came over the intercom as we sat and listened in stunned silence. No one knew what to do. I asked them, 'Do you want me to keep teaching, kids, or should we talk about this?' I'll never forget the look on their faces or the student who spoke up and said, 'No. Keep teaching us.' When they were safe in their parents' living rooms, they would learn all too well the horror of that day.

Today, my colleagues and I sat in the same silence. My good friend and colleague Bob Cloutier had already heard of the tragedy and said, 'Don't tell Emily now. She won't take this well.' He was right. I didn't. There are times in life when even adults are left speechless in the face of such overwhelming insanity. As educators, these students are our lives. If you do it right, teaching America's youth is not only a job, but a vocation. Speaking for myself and all of my fellow teachers, we are heart sick at such senseless loss of life, talent and promise.

Luckily, my children were just down the hall at the time. As I made my way back to my classroom, I could hear 'Hannah Montana' blaring from my laptop. They were laughing and eating banana bread, thoroughly captivated by the screen. I stood for a moment in the doorway and looked at them, felt for a moment a staggering sense of urgency to keep them in this room, forever. How can I let them go out into such a world? How can I keep them safe? How can I tell them what happened in a way that won't scare them?

I hugged them instead. I gathered them in my arms and felt what every parent in America must be feeling right now: gratitude. Unlike my college-aged self, I have walked in this world a while. I've seen the beauty of a baby as she enters this world, and I've watched three babies grow. I've seen 14-year-olds walk through the doors of this high school, and I've watched those same bright faces walk down the aisle at graduation. I understand what a privilege it is to keep our children safe and healthy and growing. As a parent, as a teacher, as a human being, I am devastated.

It's times like these when lines I read come back to me in bits and pieces. As I sit here, some words from my favorite poem keep popping into my head. In 'Birches' by Robert Frost, a boy is walking in the woods after a recent ice storm, and he sees the trees have been bent over by the wind and snow. He tells himself that they have been gently bowed to the ground by a boy who has been climbing on his father's birches.

Frost writes, 'I'd like to get away from earth awhile/ And then come back to it and begin over./ May no fate willfully misunderstand me/ And half grant what I wish and snatch me away/ Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:/ I don't know where it's likely to go better.' This is how I feel in this moment. Weary of life, confused by such 'a pathless wood,' if only we could all be a swinger of birches again. If only we could keep believing that life and childhood are eternal.

Though our grief is great, I am comforted by Frost's words now more than ever. Earth is the right place for love. Let us do what we can to show our love and support for the living and always remember those who are no longer among us.


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