The headlines and news broadcasts are filled with images of the families and friends of those affected in Newtown, CT. This is one of those instances when the media and technology is both a grace and a curse. How wonderful to know that people around the nation and world are joining together in prayer for a community most people have never been to or even heard about prior to this past Friday. Yet the images and constant replaying of the stories leads one to wonder if this is all done truly out of compassion or perhaps out of a desire to have a big news story and our insatiable desire for excitement. When is a breaking news story shared because of a desire to enlighten others and when is it the desire to be the first to hit the airwaves with the shocking news? I wonder at times if we aren’t simply living from one drama to the next.
I saw this not to downplay or dismiss the losses felt by those in Newtown, but simply to re-evaluate our constant desire to know more about it. I, too, have watched news fragments on the Internet and desired to weep over what was being shown. There is something about the death of the innocent that evokes strong feelings within each person. It is a greater sense of injustice, a greater wrong has been perpetrated. The grief we feel would be of a different caliber had the victims all been adults. But when we see the ages of 6 and 7, we rightly feel that justice was not done. Every time something like this happens, I internally link it back to abortion. Not because I want to diminish the tragedy and say, “Something bad happens every day, get over it.” Far from it. I desire to simply say, “Yes, this is a tragedy. But there is another tragedy that doesn’t get the news coverage, that doesn’t get the recognition it deserves because it is considered to be a ‘hot button’ issue and that people have conflicting feelings about it. Or because it is a choice. That is a tragedy that we should all be weeping over.” The death of the innocent does evoke a heartache in us that speaks to our very desire to defend that which is weak and vulnerable. Rightfully so. But let us not forget the accepted deaths that occur daily. Let not familiarity breed apathy. We hear about abortion and so we are accustomed to the horrors of it. Yes, it is bad, but could it truly ever be stopped? I don’t think that is the important issue, really. Each parent would greatly desire one more of those children to be spared, even if the child was not their own. As such, I desire for each child that is being carried into the abortion clinic to be spared, to be carried out once again, living in the womb of his mother.
As a teacher, I find it especially touching to hear the stories of the teachers who sacrificed their lives or put themselves in harms way for the sake of their students. It makes me wonder if I would have the same resolve. My students had asked me about the morality of a very hypothetical situation over a month ago. I had been telling them that it was wrong for the biblical Saul to commit suicide and that while we can never judge the fate of one who committed suicide, that the act is always intrinsically wrong. Being sophomores, they wanted to find a circumstance in which it would be acceptable. Who better to put on the stake then their teacher? So the situation went as follows: say a person came in with a gun and said that either I killed myself or he would kill all of my students. They looked at me, thinking that they had stumped me.
“Which one would you pick? Would you sacrifice yourself for us or would you just watch us all be killed?”
They thought I had to choose one of their options. I was firmly convinced that there were other ways that they had not thought of. So I presented my “game plan” to them, should this event ever actually take place in real life. I said that I would throw myself at the man–knowing that I would die–but that when I did that, all of the men in the classroom were to jump up and charge him also. They seemed a little surprised by my response, and while I wasn’t, I was left wondering if this was really a matter to be discussed with my students. A while after I heard about the Newtown murders, I re-thought what I had told them and decided that I wouldn’t really alter anything I had said. The vastly hypothetical situation seemed a little less out there and closer to home. I thought about how I would be shaking and terrified, but I prayed that God would give me the necessary strength, should something like this actually happen.
Perhaps this is inappropriate to put in a post that also speaks about Newtown, but I don’t think it is. I often refer to my students as “my kids” even though I know they aren’t really kids, but they do feel in a way like they are mine. They may never know the affection I harbor for them, even the ones that also drive me up the wall. For the most part, I can never tell them I love them, because they would never take it as seriously or as deeply as I mean it. They are each too deep to know in such a short amount of time, yet I feel like I know quite a bit about them, simply from their behavior and class work.
From the fragments of this blog, perhaps what can be redeemed is this fact: that the ultimate sacrifice is never made without smaller, seemingly insignificant sacrifices made prior to it. The sacrifices would largely be chalked up to “my job” by most of my students and those around me. But I think there is something deeper involved. I do not claim to be the best teacher or the most sacrificial. Yet I think that despite the incongruent images, spending two hours to make bon-bons for my seniors, staying in my classroom until the sun has gone down again, listening to their stories and ramblings, grading their countless assignments, and taking them in prayer to nearly every Mass I’ve been to since I got the job–all of these will be the tiny sacrifices that make it possible for me to make the “ultimate sacrifice” should it be required of me. Sacrifices like these and the ones many other teachers make will generally not gain the headline on the newspaper, but they are what makes it possible for one to lay down one’s life for a friend.
May God grant peace to those who have died, peace to those who survive, and peace in our hearts and the entire world. May He also grant us the grace to sacrifice, regardless of the personal cost.