In the Space of a Heartbeat

I was on the internet when I read the news.  A gunman had forced his way inside an elementary school in Connecticut and started shooting.  Among the victims were 20 children and six members of the faculty and staff.  Sadness doesn’t even begin to cover what I have felt in all the time since.

What struck me most was the life-altering fragility of it all.  The previous night those kids may have been writing letters to Santa, anticipating a snowfall so that they could go sledding, or build a model of Frosty complete with a carrot nose.  The adults might have been feeling the stress of completing Christmas shopping.  All were probably feeling the normal anticipation that always accompanies  a great holiday season.  And then, in the space of a heartbeat,  they were simply gone.

President Obama could hardly speak through his emotion when he was addressing the nation about this issue.  He had to pause to wipe away his tears when he spoke, not just as our president, but also as a parent.

“I know that there is not a parent in America who does not feel the same grief as I do…he said”{these children) had their entire lives ahead of them.  Birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own.  Among the fallen were also teachers,..(women) who had dedicated their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams.  So our hearts are broken today, (and they go out to} the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers and the families of the adults who were lost.  Our hearts also go out to the parents of the survivors,  the children whose innocence has been torn away too soon.”

Within hours stories emerged about the heroic actions of some teachers, who went to extraordinary lengths to protect their students.  The first-grade educator Kaitlin Roig ushered all of her students into a bathroom and kept them quiet until the rain of bullets stopped.  She told them each that she loved them.  In an interview later that evening , she said: “I don’t know if that is appropriate,  but if the gunman got in, I wanted those words to be the last thing those kids ever heard.”    Amid the chaos, she comforted those kids, telling them they all had to wait for the good guys to come.   When cops pounded on the door, she refused to open it, fearing that the gunman was playing a trick.  “If you really are the police, ” she said, “you should be able to get the keys to open the door”.   Ultimately that is what they did, and her students got out unharmed.  I don’t know how many people would be so quick thinking in the face of paralyzing fear.

This tragedy certainly made me consider my li and the issues that I deal with each and every day.  I would be the first to admit that my life is not easy and that I need help to do many things that others do without thinking.  If I want something more than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a meal, chances are good that I am going to need assistance with both the preparation and the cleanup. I cannot take a shower, dress, or put my shoes on independently.  Cleaning my house and doing my laundry always requires another pair of hands.   And I am dependent on the schedules of other people to give me a ride to run errands or to take me anywhere that I want to go for fun.

To date, I have had 49 surgeries, have the need for routine physical therapy and I have been in the hospital more times than I can count.  The search for quality caregivers can seem endless, and making the wrong decision about who is best to hire has been known to have disastrous results.

There is not a day that goes by when some part of my body does not hurt somehow, and I have to do something specific to make myself feel better.  Spasms and stiffness are part of almost every move that I make,  and pain has been a significant part of the life I live for a very long time.

Yes, my life is difficult.  Much harder than some, and significantly easier than others.  But it is my life, and I need to be grateful for every single Heartbeatsecond that I have it.

Because I was painfully reminded this week, along with the rest of the nation, that it all could be gone in  the space of a heartbeat.

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