The Hannukah holiday is sold as one of miracles but as usual, if you look really closely, any miracles were really precipitated by people. In this case, the Maccabees and other heroes who took a stand against oppression and assimilation (maybe too much of a stand but that’s a discussion for another day).
This month there was a lot of talk about a guy who got thrown onto subway tracks and what was done or not done to help him. The photographer who took pictures. The people who ran to the other side of the platform. Those who just stood there. In my thoughts, I joined in the outrage. What cowards! Why didn’t they DO something?
About a week later, I was sitting on the bus in my morning daze, thinking about a decision I needed to make and all the plusses and minuses and permutations. In front of me, but barely processed, a large, heavy man with a cane got on the bus and gingerly edged forward. At the same time, a slightly off his rocker homeless-type guy who was sitting in the first seat began thrusting forward his cart and yelling, “is this 86th Street? IS THIS 86TH STREET?????” (It wasn’t.) He jumped up and, in a barely a second, blink of the eye type timespan, the guy with the cane fell with a huge thud down on his back (he had pivoted around his cane which splintered into three parts). I was just feet from him but I was utterly, totally frozen. It was a moment of unreality; did that just happen? Is that guy really just lying there? In back of me, a woman yelled, “don’t just sit there! Help him up!” It wasn’t at me directly, but I felt terribly. She and another woman lifted him up and led him to a seat. I was holding a cup of coffee and I suddenly remembered the scene from Coming to America where Eddie Murphy bravely confronts an armed robber while his love interest’s boyfriend lamely explains later, “I would have helped, but you know, I was holding a shake.” That was me: the lame wussy guy with the soul-glo hair.
After that, I stopped wondering what I would have done while a guy got thrown into the subway. The answer was, freeze in total shock.
This weekend led me to think of that question again. When a horror show occurs in the exact setting that you spend your every day in, you can’t help thinking of yourself in that situation. I thought of our head of school and school psychologist. I think they would have run into danger, too. I could see the spaces that the kids were hidden in in our school, too: bathrooms between classrooms that weren’t meant to hold a whole class but probably could, supply closets, etc. And I think our smart, experienced, amazing teachers would all do what those teachers did, too.
What I did personally, to make sure I’d never have a bus moment, was to practice what I would do in my head. I found the space in my lab that I’d take the kids to. I thought of what I might say. I don’t want to freeze. I want it to be a total reflex until I can unfreeze myself. I love those kids so much and don’t want to fail them. Because I used to think things like, “but anyone would do that! Any thinking, caring person.” Now I know better. I think the teachers and staff at Sandy Hook are and were amazing people who created their own miracles and I salute them. They are my role models.