|Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton|
There was an awesome power behind it, Mike Mulligan's steam shovel digging the hole, harder and faster and deeper and with a perfectly square edge.
There was no way out of the hole.
I could sit there, at the bottom, with Mike Mulligan and Mary Ann. Stuck. A building constructed over my head, comprised of bricks named Christina-Taylor, and Alex Teves, and classes of kindergarteners, pressing on my heart as I imagined myself walking around town in an orange t-shirt.
I have orange t-shirts. One is from a girls' trip to NASA while attending a convention of the National Charity League, an organization I'd have introduced to CTG when she entered 6th grade. One is from the Jane Goodall lecture G'ma and I attended, sitting on folding chairs in the shade, smiling at the sea of sun umbrellas and Ms Goodall's conversation with the young man in the back row.... the conversation taking place not in English but in Chimpanzee
My orange t-shirts say NASA and Jane Goodall but tomorrow they will represent guns and loss and political intransigence. I'm just not sure I want to make the switch. Those shirts have happy memories embedded in their fibers. Alex and Christina-Taylor aren't here to wear theirs; they are the reason I am wearing mine. The sadness is really too much to bear.
Last June I went to a synagogue to celebrate lives lost in a Charleston church. I wore an orange dress, in solidarity. I felt safe. There was a security guard (to whom I introduced myself and who promised to keep me safe) and there were priests and ministers and rabbis and friends filling the pews. There is, thankfully, no similar service required right now (though there are SWAT teams flooding UCLA, looking for a shooter or shooters as I type). So, I am left to wear my orange shirt, without company, without an event, as part of the me I present to the world.
It's like putting a target on my chest.
I'm terrified in a way that I was not last year, the first time Hadiya Pendleton's friends' request to wear the hunters' color of safety in honor of their shot-to-death friend came across my desk. Shot to death friend.... why should kids have to say that? Orange as a color of safety, representing the most unsafe of all experiences - being shot to death.
Can I walk around all day reminding myself of tragedy and loss? Noticing my limp no longer sends me into a state of fury or sorrow. Holding Christina's hand on the cold cement is no longer my first thought when my hip announces its presence with authority. Instead, I curse the loss of long, steep hikes and remind myself to use all my muscles so that I can get back on the mountain again.
I haven't forgotten. I haven't moved on. I have been separating the losses, keeping the saddest one locked in a box in the corner of my consciousness, not allowing it to intrude as I go about my life.
The love is there, edging my heart but not consuming it. How can I wear all that pain on the outside?
A fellow survivor wondered why she was having so much trouble joining in the joyful planning for #WearOrange events. She couldn't shake her sadness, and I was right there with her. I could try to embrace the memories, I could try to influence decision makers, I could share the day with others who share my position on the issue, but ultimately the reason for my involvement is the loss of a 9 year old child.
There's no putting a smile on that one.