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Keeping Them Safe, If Only In Your Mind—A Commentary by Susanna Rodell ’07

The following commentary appeared in The Hartford Courant on April 18, 2007

Keeping Them Safe, If Only In Your Mind
By Susanna Rodell ’07

Do you have any kids in college? If so, your thoughts Monday may have run something like mine.

In your imagination, you put your child in one of those Virginia Tech classrooms. Then you willed that child to escape. You thought about her: she's gutsy - she'd never cower in a corner or allow herself to be stood in line to accept execution - right?

At some point, the gunman would have stopped to reload. "Quick! Rush him!" You're coaching the child, trying to speak into her brain. "Go for the windows! Don't accept death! Act!"

I first started running these scenarios in my head after Columbine. I bet I'm not alone. My kids, like your kids, got on the bus every morning, enfolded into a world they presumed was safe.

Back in the post-Columbine days, an attractive single mom who went to our church was murdered by her ex-husband. But that wasn't the worst of it. She had a daughter, a lovely dark-haired child, who sang in the junior choir with my kids. Her name was Ashley. The deranged ex killed Ashley too.

My youngest, Ruby, was Ashley's friend. Over and over she told me how at the last choir rehearsal, Ashley had been wiggling too much and not paying attention. Ruby got annoyed with her and spoke sharply to her. How could she know she'd never see her again? Shouldn't she have been kinder?

The passing years haven't dulled the regret and sadness. Every time we remember, Ruby's eyes fill up again, and I go back, in my primitive lizard-mother brain, and try to reach into the past, rewind the tape and stop the murder. If only Ashley's mom had told us what was happening, could we have protected her? Protected them both?

Rational mama looks on this and says it's a useless exercise. But primitive lizard-brain mama can't philosophize.

My college girl is in North Carolina. Once when she was little, in a freakish accident, she inhaled a pop-top from a soda can. It lodged in her throat and, after a scary trip to the emergency room and a minor surgical procedure to remove it, she was placed in the same hospital ward with kids who were in real trouble, with cystic fibrosis and cancer.

The civilized mama in me ached for them, and for the weary parents who spent night after night on watch on that ward. Lizard-brain mama, however, had her own agenda. Lizard-brain mama wanted my child out of there, out of that place where death visits children. Lizard-brain mama couldn't wait to strip off the hospital pajamas, take her home and give her a bath, make her smell once again like my own child, far away from suffering.

Where is your child? From up here, at that same primitive level, North Carolina feels too close to Virginia. It makes no sense, of course, no more than it made sense to comfort myself that Columbine was 2,000 miles away.

How many parents in this cruel week are sitting with these thoughts, aching for the ones who lost their babies to some insane piece of happenstance - and at the same time trying to trick ourselves out of this horrible vulnerability - not my child? Couldn't happen.

When the awful truth is, it could. It can.

Susanna Rodell is a former editorial writer for The Courant. She is in a master's program at Yale Law School.