We Might all be forced to wear May’s Shoes

NB: I wrote this right after Sandy Hook and have updated it, though the only thing that has changed is that there are many more Mays, more people left in the wake of senseless slaughter. . . .                                                                                                       ——————————————————

I’ve been thinking a lot about my friend May these days. May’s not her name, but everything else I write about her will be faithful to the person I knew.

May and I taught together in a fairly small English department in a mid-sized town in Connecticut. She was a veteran by the time I began teaching, though we were nearly the same age. She is one of those exceptional people called to teaching, and while I did not agree with her approaches, she was undeniably driven to spend her life in a classroom. She loved her work, loved her school, loved her students.

More than that she loved her family. Her husband was a semi-retired business owner, and together they trained show dogs and horses. Their daughter, whose disabilities made her dependent on them for life, was sheltered in unfettered warmth. But the light of May’s life was her talented, intelligent son.

May never tired of sharing photos and mementos from her son’s glory days in high school, then college; her only complaint was that he remained single, and she longed for him to bring her grandchildren. Then,  just before I left my position as a teacher in the room down the hall from May’s, her son did marry, and he married a girl May easily adored. Beside herself with joy, May was confident that grandchildren were finally on her horizon, and she could not wait.

I didn’t see May for a lot of years. I had moved to another school and then left teaching altogether; I hardly thought about her. But when Newtown happened, I saw in a news story that one of the children murdered there had her last name. Unwilling to imagine the bottomless pain of being a parent of a Newtown parent, I dismissed the name as a coincidence until a week later, when someone I knew from that town wrote me to tell me that the child whose name I had noticed was indeed May’s grandson.

Connecticut is a small town, and May’s was not the only family I knew whose hearts were buried in that awful rubble. But having reached grand-motherhood myself, having spent so many hours hearing the golden son stories, the news of May’s loss struck me like a serrated knife slicing away the edges of my heart. I couldn’t even write to her. I hadn’t been in touch with her for over twenty years; it felt disingenuous to write of sympathy, of love.  I was dumbstruck.

There is no bottom to the kind of despair I envision in the wake of such a loss. And today, for the 294th time this year, another group of grandmothers’ lives have been strangled by an angry man carrying a gun, and by the deranged, terroristic forces in our society, who claim it is his inalienable right to carry that weapon with which he has slaughtered her child’s child.

It is time to stand up as a nation and say ENOUGH. We will take no more. We will make it stop. And we must do it now. We have no time to lose. We are all being watched through the sights of those guns, and it is up to us to hobble them for once and for all.