How is it that a moment accelerated into fast-forward for one person can be the same instant that goes into slow-motion for another?
A person in an SUV drove into my daughter’s school yesterday. He was driving down the road, buckled into his seat, running his errands, perhaps pondering dinner and in an instant his heart stopped, cut off from the oxygen-rich blood that would otherwise keep it pumping. His foot grew heavy and pressed on the gas pedal; a woman inside the school saw the vehicle coming and screamed, alerting the others in the room and with a thunderous crash, the car slammed into the school.
The room was unoccupied by children, none of the adults were harmed and the only person affected was the driver of the vehicle who had probably died before he hit the school. And yet, there is something here. Something that begs for analysis or thought; something that needs a pause.
The incident left everyone shaking, especially on the heels of the recent school shootings. My daughter’s school went on lockdown immediately when the crash was heard, the teachers initially didn’t know what was going on and the students finished the last minutes of their day speculating about what was happening. The principal ran through the halls screaming to call 911 and the building shuddered even after the crash. I picked up my daughter less than ten minutes after the incident and I was struck by her vulnerability, standing there, coat on but without boots or hat or mittens on an eighteen degree day. Her backpack was still open, papers falling out. She was pale and stiff with fear. The students had been told to grab their coats and go, not to worry about anything else. Just go!
Again, the children are all fine. It was an event that occurred; a scary one, but one that is relatively minor in the scheme of things. The building will be fixed, school will continue, life will go on. And so there is a tendency to want to discount and move on. We think that the quicker we push forward, the faster our traumas will blur and become distant. Then somehow they will no longer affect us.
As adults we discuss the facts and make assumptions. We read newspaper articles and try to see the big picture. And then we continue through life, making dinner and folding laundry. We busy ourselves with the logistics, figuring out how to rebuild physical walls that were broken down, filing insurance claims.
Children don’t have the same luxury. They cannot fix the physical deficits. They spend their time observing, each processing in their own way. My older daughter explained the event in pieces and then didn’t want to talk about it anymore. As we got closer to our house she simply said, “I just want to be home and safe.” My younger daughter wanted to rehash the incident over and over. She wanted all the details many times over, from many perspectives. Even when I tried to move on, buying all of us a treat at a local bakery, she brought it up again, not ready to let go, needing to understand. If she could understand how it happened, then somehow she would be able to find a way to make it impossible to happen again, especially anywhere near anyone she loved.
So we try to give things their due. I didn’t rush, but tried not to dwell. I tried to find a balance. The vehicle was towed away; the building declared stable enough for school to continue. But the incident lingers. The tire tracks remain in the snow. My daughter repeats how shaky she felt; how serious her teacher got. And we hang in suspense, drawing in, thankful for the near misses, but unable to deny this sense of urgency that hangs.