When the Unthinkable Happens: A Parent's Reflection on the Chardon Shootings

How does a parent wrap her mind around a reality no one wants to face?


On Feb. 27, the unthinkable happened.

I need to rephrase that.

What should be unthinkable happened.

But who has not confronted: What if?

Parents, students, teachers, school employees, administrators ... shudder at unfathomable thoughts.

When I was a child, I hated tornado drills. I tried not to think about my fear. Who could control nature?

What goes through our children’s minds? It is unconscionable that they should have to drill for shootings; yet they must. Know what to do. Push down the fear. Pray it never happens. It couldn’t. It wouldn’t. It’s unthinkable.

It happened.

Our hearts break for the Chardon victims and their families.

Our anger burns against the one who committed this crime and against evil circumstances and thoughts that lead to atrocities.

We are unsettled and outraged and fearful (of copycats).

We are reminded of just how fragile life is.

Monday morning, as I was pulling into the parking lot to sub at my son’s school, I was talking about Glass by Thompson Square. (We often bond over music). My son hadn’t heard it, so I was sharing lyrics:

We may shine, we may shatter,

We may be picking up the pieces here on after

We are fragile, we are human,

We are shaped the light we let through us.

But we break fast,

‘Cause we are glass.

I said I love the extended metaphor the song creates.

“Ever the English teacher,” he laughed.

I know this is a love song, and I don’t want to ruin it for anyone on that level. But to me, the song speaks of a greater truth: the frailty of the human condition. It’s not just our spirits that are easily shattered. Our very lives could be taken from us in a single moment. Too soon. Against God’s perfect will.

Looking back, that conversation feels prophetic.

Only a few hours later, a concerned student would come to me asking: “Mrs. Noble, do you know anything about a shooting at Chardon High School?”

I would answer with a blank stare.

“I heard one student was killed and several others injured,” he would say.

“Oh, Dear Lord ...” I would whisper, an utterance of shock and despair and prayer, wrapped into the only three words that would come.

Push it down. Don’t think on it. Go on with learning.  

Before I had my children, I taught high school, pre-Columbine. My first year home, when tragedy struck, I remember selfishly thinking, “I’m thankful I’m not in school.”

Yet my children would go. Did I think the world would change?

After learning of the Chardon tragedy, I had the fleeting thought: Do I really want to be here? Then: Would you have your children here and wish yourself away?

How does one wrap her mind around the thought that she could be next? Worse, that it could be her child whose life is taken?

How did the parents of Daniel Parmertor, Demetrius Hewlin and Russell King, Jr. digest the reality that their son’s lives were taken?

How is Holly Walczak able to face what she described as “a terrible
movie that you’re stuck in?" How does a parent contend with the fear of a son’s paralysis combined with guilt of being the one whose child survived?

Did Joy Rickers’ family experience similar feelings?

How is Phyllis Ferguson able to “give glory to God” and express "forgiveness?" For the sake of not allowing her son’s memory to be trumped by hatred.

John Eldredge once said: When God created the world, He declared
it good. He did not declare it safe.

The wilderness is beautiful but holds within its beauty elements of danger. We cannot partake of the adventure of living without the risk of dying.

If we allow ourselves to dwell on each day’s potential for death, we will never leave home. We will die there, in crippled seclusion.

While I can accept danger in the natural world, my mind screams: God never intended for humans to fear one another! His desire was for us to be like Him.

To that end, He gave us free will. Choice is ours.

But we are not God. We are more like ... glass.

Our hearts can be drilled, stilled by a single bullet. Our minds can be shattered by a memory. Our spirits can be broken by just one word or action. 

And what of the one who chooses to destroy? He, too, is glass.

There is no excuse for killing. Not drug use nor being bullied nor having a rough childhood (unproven speculations).

I will not defend a killer.

Yet I am heartbroken for this young man. And for his family.

T.J. Lane broke. Who knows where the crack originated, but it was there, working its way through his brain until it shattered into a thousand pieces: the pull of a trigger. 

Why, T.J.? Why did you act on those evil thoughts? What impacted your spirit so deeply? You have taken lives, devastated families. You have destroyed your own life, too.

The day of the shootings, I wanted to hug my kids and never let go. I held my 15-year-old-son’s hand as I drove him to baseball practice. The next morning, I asked him about school drills for, God forbid — the unthinkable. He explained what they’ve practiced. I checked with the office to be sure I knew protocol as a substitute teacher.

This is no tornado. Definitely not an act of God. Shouldn’t there be some way to get such a thing under control? How can we ever be truly prepared for something so unnatural?

God did not create robots. He made people, of flesh and blood.

What is meant to shine sometimes shatters, because He gave us — His
fragile creatures (meant to be the crown-jewel of His creation) — the gift of

Such a gift is not safe, I know, but I have to believe that it is GOOD.

Even when the unthinkable happens, and we must find a way to pick up the pieces.

Alexa Calcei March 09, 2012 at 05:24 PM
I love love love that you added in the lyrics Glass to this piece it really gives it a good perspective on the situatuion that has happened to innocent people yet again. this experience was very touching and terrrifying to many , and i really think you did such a great job at showing your emotions and it was written just so well , i enjoyed it alot ! good job ! -lexi calcei
Leah Walden March 09, 2012 at 05:26 PM
I have great appreciation and respect towards you because of this article. I loved this. It made me look at this situation a lot different and feel for the people that are being affected by this. I think before I read this I was more in denial that something this tragic couldn't happen to us, but I am more open to realizing now, that anything could happen at any time. Great writing also.
Andy Eaton March 09, 2012 at 08:24 PM
Great article! This piece made me really have to sit down and think and ponder about events like this. It gave me a perspective that made me really wonder what could have possessed a teenage student to commit such a terrible crime against his peers. Could it have been that he was continually bullied or maybe just a random act of violence? I do not think that i will ever really figure it out but if it was that he was bullied it makes you think about the psychological effects it can have on people and how sometimes it can go too far. This event should put into perspective that anything can happen at anytime for any reason and while nobody should have to be prepared for something like this it makes you know that in the world we live in, you have to be ready for anything. Yet again this is a great article that should make anyone sit and have to think on it and take what they can from it. -Andy Eaton
billie greenier October 11, 2012 at 01:39 AM
I think everyone needs to really be educated on the signs of a child being bullied or a children being a bully. If we learn these behaviors and signs hopefully we can save one life, with that being said: Every kid needs to see this video. http://www.youtube.com/watc
jolie montlick October 12, 2012 at 02:55 AM
Please check out my anti-bullying music video "My Song for Taylor Swift" that was just released. It empowers kids to speak up in the face of bullying and shows heartwarming scenes of kids doing the right thing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPR_-zDMD8A. In 1 week the video has been seen in 41 states and 20 countries. And please pass it on to others- we want it to to viral and help as many kids as possible. Thank you!! Jolie.


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