My Silent Cry
It was only 9 a.m. when the alarm rang. The jarring code words that followed from the loudspeaker chilled my bones and almost froze my ability to react. No! It can’t be! Eighteen pairs of eyes gaped at me, eighteen second–graders, counting on me to do something.
Don’t panic. Not now!
I sprinted towards the classroom door, locked it, and turned out the lights. That was their cue. Without a sound, each child stood up, and row by row in single file moved towards the bathroom. A year earlier, the school board had voted to allow child-friendly locks on bathroom doors. Such were the times.
Where are the critics who fought to remove prayer from schools? Dear God, You’re the only One that will help us now!.
The sound of gunfire reverberated into our tiny space. I’ve never seen children so frightened, and so brave. None of them had forgotten about Rule #3. No talking, not even a whisper.
With each shot, Tommy followed his best friend, Aaron, and covered his ears, but their eyes remained glued to the locked door. Merri-Lee and several of her friends who sat huddled together, lowered their heads and squeezed their eyes. Jonathan, my timid one, hid behind the shirt that covered his head. I sat on my trembling hands, tried to calm by racing heart, and prayed. Would I have to take a… bullet?
With my ears cocked for the least little sound of a gunman trying to break a lock, and my brain pounding at the thought of what could happen, little Jonathan’s question snuck in between the drumbeats going on in my head. We had just finished a gun safety drill earlier that week, when I felt a timid tug on my left hand. I turned and there was Jonathan standing on tip toes. He always stood on his tip toes when he didn’t want anyone to hear. I leaned towards him. He whispered a question that turned on the spigot to my tear ducts.
“Mrs. Kline, was it this way when you went to school?”
I turned my head, but gave him a hug. Why let him see me cry?
I didn’t have time to tell him about another period…When graduation programs included the word invocation and no one called prayer a violation of civil rights... when the Bible was more than just an historical book.
We sat for almost two hours in terror-filled silence until the “all clear” sounded. The plug that had kept our emotions in check fell out. We hugged each other and cried.
With forced imprisonment over, the children grabbed their coats. And barely waiting for my instructions, they rushed out the back door and into a wall of parents, who peered over shoulders trying to catch a reassuring glimpse of the child they’d kissed good-bye earlier that day. I walked slowly back to the building with feet that felt as if they were tied to weights. We had escaped a madman’s rage, but some had not. At the front entrance, I caught a glimpse of Jonathan. His head lay buried in the fold of his mother’s arm, and she was crying. Instinctively, I knew why. Two boys had set out for school that morning, but only one would return home. Jonathan’s older brother, Jeremy Millan, was among the five who died in a place where death does not belong
No, Jonathan, No. This was NOT the way it was when I went to school!
But no one heard my silent cry.
The pain of loss ran deep for the rest of the day: Loss of life, lost innocence, and the loss of what was that could never be again. School was no longer a safe place for learning, but a place where someone could... die. That’s the lesson my students learned that morning, and it was not from my Plan Book.
At home, I try to escape from the aftermath of chaos, but the picture of Jonathan keeps me at the scene. I think again of his question and wonder, what has society done to our kids when they stopped Bible reading and halted the practice of prayer in school? In the wake of that decision, children keep dying at the hands of the godless.
Some would argue that perhaps there’s another reason. Maybe, but Jonathan, that was not the way it was when I went to school. And for children everywhere, I wish it was that way again.
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