After the murders in Newtown, CT, last month, some friends were discussing whether disasters like this gave them the urge to go get their kids. Apparently when the news of September 11 broke, a lot of parents in the DC area went and picked up their kids from school. Any fear in that situation might have had a slightly rational dimension; I know I spent the next few days wondering if another blow were going to fall, and when I went to New York on July 4 weekend the next summer, I was a little nervous–not that it was dangerous to me personally, because what are the odds, but that something would happen there on that date. But I digress. Their point was that in the case of Newtown, it was completely irrational to be afraid for one’s child’s safety. I agreed.
Yet I confessed that if not for the fact that on December 14, I had an afternoon appointment at work in Palo Alto, I might well have returned early to San Francisco just to peek in on Mookie. I might even have picked her up early from school, literally to pick her up, to hold her. I knew it wasn’t because I was afraid of anything happening at her school, but I couldn’t articulate what compelled me.
Yesterday I was missing her, as I always do on those few days a month when I work a 12-hour day and won’t be back home until she’s asleep, and I suddenly remembered how I’d felt on December 14, and it clicked. The horror story out of Connecticut had made me want to hold her, not out of fear, but out of empathy. I had had just the fraction of a sense of what it would be like to know that I would never see my daughter alive again, and it was that feeling that had made me want to go find her, just to wrap my arms around her and breathe the smell of her hair. The way, after waking from a bad dream in which I’d had a bad conflict with someone I loved, I needed to talk to the person and let something good and sweet rinse away that awful feeling.