Long before I was a mother, I was a runner. On April 15, 2007, exactly nine years ago today, I completed my first 5k. It was a windy and hilly race for which I was not conditioned, and, due to low runner turnout, I actually managed to get lost in the barren fields of early Virginia spring.
I crossed the finish line with a three-minute, don’t-follow-the-sorority-girl-who-is-lost delay. My legs, already jelly, would struggle to move the next morning.
I will never forget the innocence of that day.
April 16, 2007
I hear sirens and something in the air feels wrong. Very wrong. Police cars speed past, and I see a young man hurl his backpack to the ground with abandon. Students are literally sprinting for their lives. I join them, and my legs pulse with pain.
Just 15 minutes prior, life was calm, even quiet. I was in the library reading an e-mail about an earlier shooting on campus. Its details now escape me. The world was different then.
I find shelter in the nearest dining hall, and the hours seem to paralyze my sense of time. Cell phone traffic largely prevents updates from the outside, and the central television is too difficult to watch. When an active shooter is on your campus, no place feels safe, especially when it is communal.
It feels like I am waiting to die.
We are generously offered free food, but my thoughts are all my stomach can handle. Over and over, I consider my life’s decisions, and the future that may or may not be available to me. What have I left undone? What are my regrets? What are my dreams, and have I been able to reach them in my 21 years?
And then it hits me: I may never have children. I may never be a mother. This is a goal towards which I have been working my entire life. The significance of degrees, accolades, and 5k races is erased in that moment.
Hours later our campus is deemed safe, and I drive home to the soundtrack of my own tears. Freedom, my own freedom, has come at the cost of others’ lives.
Nine years later, the memory of April 16, 2007 still haunts my heart, but I know that the experience has made me a better person, educator, and mother. Every single day that I teach, I see my own beautiful children in my students’ eyes and, in them, I see a world of potential that I will fight to protect.
If life is a race, I believe we are called to run it with purpose. To make our days count. To make love the legacy we leave behind.
My children remind me that my work is not yet done and that pain is, well, inevitable. And, if we are living, we are winning the race with the strength of all that we have overcome.
“See the children run as the sun goes down / Among the fields of gold”