I stepped out of a meeting and saw I’d missed a call from my fiancee.
“Our son is fine,” his voicemail informed me without preface.
In the moment before he continued speaking, my breath caught in my throat as I imagined a million different terrifying scenarios.
Even after I’d heard the one that actually played out, even understanding our son was fine, I was hopelessly out of the swing of things the rest of the afternoon. My every thought was punctuated by the question, “What if?”
What if it had been something more serious?
What if our son had been hurt? What if one (or some) of his friends had been?
What if the voicemail had instead begun, “Deb, something terrible happened”?
When I drove up to the school and saw with my own eyes the aftermath of today’s incident, it seemed very small and very big all at once. And when I saw my little boy, I found myself especially pleased with his traditional running hug attack.
In this world, all was well. But enveloped in my son’s hug, ruffling his hair as he asked if it was donut day, glimpses of the could-have-been flashed through my mind.
I’m glad the could-have-been was not, not today. I’m glad my son is safe for now. I still wish I could give him perfect safety, but at the moment I am glad for the moment’s safety.
No matter how tired and beat I am after a rough couple of weeks, any day is good that winds down beginning with my son’s tackle hugs.
On Tuesday morning, school bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff was called in from vacation to fill in for a coworker.
Also on Tuesday, 20-year-old Michael Hill walked into Ms. Tuff’s school with a rifle and nearly 500 rounds of ammunition.
Ms. Tuff intervened, simultaneously advising students to stay in their classrooms, coordinating with 911 dispatcher Kendra McCray, and calmly negotiating with Mr. Hill.
In a 911 call made public Thursday, Ms. Tuff can be heard addressing Mr. Hill with astonishing empathy. She explains that she, too, has seen hard times, on account of her “multiple disabled” son and her husband’s leaving her after 33 years of marriage; she even considered killing herself. She tells Mr. Hill that he is not past the point of no return; having hurt no one, there is still every possibility things will turn out OK.
Over the course of the 24-minute call, Ms. Tuff talks Mr. Hill into laying down his gun. She tells him she loves him, and that she’s proud of him. It is only in the final seconds of the call, after the police have taken custody of him, that she exclaims she has never been more terrified in her life.
One blogger wonders, “Can courage like Antoinette Tuff’s be taught?”
It’s an interesting question. Personally, I feel most people have more courage than they–or others–credit themselves. Most will never have that courage tested in such extraordinary settings, but I have seen great courage reflected in seemingly small acts.
What is pivotal to me here is not courage, but compassion.
Like courage, there are many small, important examples of compassion in day-to-day life. Seldom are we given opportunity to bear witness to extreme compassion: compassion in an especially charged situation where it would be easy to be hateful or angry, but where compassion itself clearly changes the course of things.
My heart recognizes Ms. Tuff’s courage, but it is her compassion that touches it most deeply.
Ms. Tuff saw and responded not to a bad guy, nor a villain, but to a suffering young man.
It is a deeply moving thing to hear a woman speaking words of love to an armed gunman. This is true whether you are a 911 dispatcher, a member of the public, or a gunman.
Are guns powerful? Indubitably, with physically limited but terrible reach. Is love powerful? Indeed, for though it is a feeling, it may inspire outward acts that change the shape of things.
Is compassion–empathetic love in action–powerful? One need only listen to this 911 call to understand that it is, perhaps, the most powerful weapon available to humankind.
I love my son, don’t get me wrong, but I really love his overnight stays with his grandmas.
Last Saturday was no exception. My fiancée, son and I were going to a family birthday party, following which my son would be whisked away by his grandmas and we’d get stuff done at home. We would use our ample free hours that afternoon to clean, plan our wedding and take care of other business.
We haven’t had time for these things on the weekdays recently. I’m on the go for at least fourteen hours before I have a moment’s breather, and my fiancee’s new job takes him away from home anywhere between twelve and seventeen hours a day.
At the end of any given day, the choice between cleaning and popping open a magazine is no choice at all.
It’s all good, though! Weekends are for catching up.
Except . . . Read more…
My sister celebrated her ten-year wedding anniversary two weeks ago. I wrote about that here, but neglected to mention one important thing: that she and her husband would be celebrating it with me.
After a family walk, they left their daughter with me and enjoyed a couple of beers at a local beer house. My sister, unused to drinking, was plastered after only a couple of beers. Her messages to that effect were adorable.
The weekend flew. We managed neither our planned trip to Disneyland nor an outing to a bridal boutique to shop for dresses, yet not all was a wash. Knowing my sister, brother-in-law and niece were all just a room away made for much sounder than usual sleep. Listening to my son attempt negotiations with his younger cousin made me chuckle: “You have to be quiet, A. That’s the deal! That’s how you get to sleep in my room. That’s the deal!” A trip to the ocean made me feel my mom was especially close, for even our junker cars could usually make it to the Oregon coast on a pocketful of change.
The weekend after my sister left, our dear, mutual friend Sarah came to visit. My fiancee and Sarah’s husband, whom both
Silver Star Rache and I consider our non-biological brother, agreed to watch our kiddos so Sarah and I could go bridal dress shopping. Read more…
We were ten miles outside of Eugene when my sister Rache and her boyfriend broke the bad news.
“We invited Aunt Rosemarie.”
“Pull the car over,” I commanded immediately.
“You can’t walk back to Eugene! We’re too far away!”
“I can walk back to Eugene, and I will, thanks.”
They refused to pull over, so I grumbled and growled for the next several minutes of our drive up to Portland. “You’re going to regret it. Seriously, you’re not even gonna be able to talk because she’s gonna be too busy talking about how Mom stole her precious silver hairbrush when they were kids. She’s going to conveniently not mention that it was for a slumber party, and Mom returned it the next day. And as you sit and try to escape that terrible, awkward conversation about ridiculous events that transpired between kids decades ago, I am going to laugh at you because you did it to yourself.”
Nick was sure I was exaggerating. He soon discovered I wasn’t. As I watched him conversing with my aunt from a distance, I could see his discomfort rising by the second. His eyes screamed “help me!” even while his mouth remained locked in a polite grin.
Later, he’d say, “You were right.” He was astonished how long someone could hold on to such lingering antagonism over something so inconsequential. I might have been, too, if my childhood weren’t shaped by that rage and unyielding, unrepentant unforgiveness.
Later that same day, my aunt cornered me. “Don’t you want to spend time with me?”
“No, I really don’t,” I said matter of factly. “Our only connection is my mom, who’s given her all to raise me and whom you’re intent on trashing for things that happened ages ago. So, no, I’m not interested.”
“The things your mom did to the family!” she howled. Read more…