Last weekend, I finished reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Two heroines during World War II risk their lives repeatedly in occupied France to save complete strangers – adults and children – from evil at the hands of the Nazis. Though fiction, the two main characters were based on real-life heroines who did whatever it took to counter evil with love, courage, and sacrifice. It was empowering for me to read Ms. Hannah’s compelling story, especially in this particularly transformative time when women are finally being heard both individually and collectively as a necessary and important cornerstone in the American mosaic of culture, education, commerce, politics, family, and faith.
After reading this novel, I couldn’t escape the question of what I would have done had I been in their shoes. Would I have had the courage and strength to risk not only my life but also my children’s lives, as they did time and time again, to save mere strangers? Like anything in life, I can speculate endlessly but I will never fully know until or unless I’m faced with a similar situation. After ruminating on this for several days, I finally left it to fate to decide.
Then, on Wednesday, I heard about the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as it was unfolding. I’d just gotten into my car and someone on the radio was reporting an active shooter situation at a public school but failed to repeat updates on where it was happening or what school for new listeners. I became increasingly agitated as I listened and tried to comprehend. Yes, I realize how irrational this is given there are over 30,000 high schools in the United States. Still, my emotions don’t give a damn about statistics when an active shooter situation is happening somewhere at some unknown place.
Here’s what’s running through my head: Is it Margaret’s school? They’d just had a bomb threat a few weeks back so that was still top-of-mind. Or could it be my younger daughter’s school? They’d also had a brief lock down last month as police apprehended someone with a firearm near the school. I cursed at the radio (something I do regularly) and pulled up my news app (yes, I broke the law by holding my iPhone while driving). Relieved beyond measure that it wasn’t at one of their schools, I then prayed for the parents who weren’t so lucky because their kid was at the wrong place at the wrong time.
As a mother, I straddle that ultra-fine line that separates the fear that my daughters could randomly be victims of a similar fate and the much more likely scenario that they will escape such a tragic end because statistics are on their side – and I will be spared the unimaginable grief these Florida parents are experiencing.
But what if I had lost one of them? What if Margaret or my youngest daughter, had been murdered at school and I never saw them alive again?
Still feeling like mush inside the next day, I drove to a Krav Maga class. An adorable little toddler girl who belongs to one of the KM instructors was there. She’s been there before, but I never really saw her until then and I couldn’t take my eyes off of her. She reminded me a lot of Margaret when she was a toddler. I picked this little girl up and as she giggled midair, I was transported back a decade, holding my toddler Margaret whose belly laugh was infectious. I felt like Emily Webb Gibbs in Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town, reliving a time in my life that I did not appreciate nearly as much as I should have. A time that was marked by countless unsuccessful attempts to give my daughter a sibling. A time when I was mired in my own grief from suffering miscarriage after miscarriage that I did not let myself fully focus on my precious baby girl who was walking around because I was either cursing at or bargaining with God. A time I would never get a second chance at living and regretfully, I was just too selfish and shortsighted to see the blessings that were in front of me.
So, in the spirit of remembering days that I should have cherished but are now forever gone, here are some of the memories I did capture on film of my Margaret as an adorable toddler. Oh, and unfortunately for her because she’s affection averse, I’ve been hugging her every chance I get since Wednesday. Because thankfully she is alive and I’d much rather hug her the rest of my life than my memories of her.