Our Walking Hearts

Our Walking Hearts

The fear of losing children can help save them.


 A mourner attends a candlelight vigil at Ram's Pasture to remember shooting victims, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)

Last night I received an e-mail from my daughter’s daycare about the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. It outlined their emergency preparedness and evacuation plans, as well as a new “age appropriate lockdown drill…that will become as familiar as our classroom naptime routines.” My daughter is 2 years old. This is not the world I want for her.

Logically, I know I shouldn’t be afraid for Layla. The chance of her being hurt by violence like the kind visited upon Newtown is incredibly small. But logic doesn’t mean much when it comes to the fear of losing our children.

When I was pregnant, an early blood test indicated that my daughter might have a serious chromosomal abnormality that would have meant early death, if she survived the pregnancy at all. As I waited on the results of my amniocentesis, my husband and relatives consoled me with statistics—she had about a one in twenty chance of having the disorder, so numbers were on my side. But to me it felt like 50-50—either she was going to be fine or she wasn’t.

That’s how I imagine a lot of us feel now. How many of the parents in Newtown ever thought that their beloved first graders would be the unlucky, tragic few? Either your child will be fine or they won’t. It’s a terrible, out-of-control, heart-stopping fear.

It very well may be the fear of a parent—I don’t remember feeling like this over past national tragedies. Maybe it’s because I’m older, maybe it’s because I have a daughter. Maybe it’s simply because it’s children—so many children—who were the bulk of the victims. All of us, parents or not, instinctively feel how unnatural it is to lose babies in this unspeakably horrible way.

When President Obama gave his speech at the vigil in Newtown last night, I was glad that he repeated the saying likening parenthood to having your heart walking around outside of your body. It’s a quote I’ve thought of often since having my daughter—an especially apt sentiment when thinking about the incredible lack of control we have over what will happen to our children.

But if it’s fear that drives us to end this culture of violence and death, so be it. We should all be afraid, every day. Because until all kids are safe, none are. Until all children in all neighborhoods are protected—not just from mass shootings, but from all gun violence—we should not feel at peace.

As President Obama said last night, “We come to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours.” We feel comfortable sending out children out into the world because the social contract tells us others will step in when we can’t. That’s what the teachers at Sandy Hook did. Maybe we’re afraid because we’re not holding up our end of the bargain.

If it’s fear that’s our initial motivator, though, let it be love that gives us the strength to put a stop to all of this. Because while fear is fleeting, love is not. And if we keep the love of our children at the front of our minds, maybe then we can remember that other children are just as fiercely loved—that they’re all our responsibility, our walking hearts, exposed and in need of protection.

A poem from Adrienne Maree Brown, love letter to the babies/they are all ours, has been playing over in my mind recently, this section in particular:

and then you came. from other wombs and other stories, but i knew you were also mine. i held you in my arms for the first time, felt your weight upon my chest, the shape of your whole fluttering life becoming solid in my hands. and i realized my ideas and theories would never come to life soon enough. to love a child is to know the limitations of time, and the horror of being in a particular moment of time, a hollowed out age where babies are collateral damage for borders and egos, among other things.

everyday the world reminds me that i cannot protect you. i don’t know if protecting children has been possible yet on this earth. i just believe that what we do, or allow to possibly be done, to our babies, in this world, at this time—that is the measure of our humanity.

It’s natural that we want to protect our own children. But it’s imperative that we seek to protect all of them. Only then will we have nothing to fear.

We must implement sane gun policies to protect our nation's children. Check out Sasha Abramsky on the gun control laws our country needs

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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