Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Shattering the Security

I worry constantly about my children with disabilities. The worry never goes away, and it encompasses everything about their lives – Are they eating enough of the right foods? Is that wheezing I hear? Is their school IEP being followed? What will happen to them when I am no longer around to care for them? For my child without disabilities, the worry is not as all-encompassing. Of course, I still worry, but the worry is more about the bigger issues – drug use, unsafe sex, college choices, etc. I have confidence in my non-disabled child’s abilities to make good choices, to understand what is going on around him, and to always be aware of danger. But, that may have all changed yesterday because of the tragedy at Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech is in Blacksburg, Virginia, a small community built around a large university. Situated between mountains of the Blue Ridge, the atmosphere in that area is one of belonging to a very large family. I have many colleagues and friends at the university, and Blacksburg is a place I have chosen many times for a respite getaway. It came as no surprise when my 16 year old son expressed interest in attending Virginia Tech. In fact, I have considered moving the entire family to that area because of its reputation as an inclusive community for people with disabilities.

That sense of family and security was shattered yesterday when a student from Virginia Tech opened fire and killed 32 innocent people. I know that similar incidents have happened in other locations, but they have not had the exact same impact on me emotionally as what happened in Blacksburg. Perhaps it is because I have walked the paths around campus that the shooter also walked. Maybe it is my familiarity with the buildings and the general area of the massacre. Or perhaps it is because Blacksburg always seemed a home away from home for me for many, many years. I now find myself reluctant for my son to pursue attending Virginia Tech.

I know I need to be realistic. I cannot protect any of my children all the time for all their lives. I know there is no way to completely secure a university, and even if there was, I’m not sure I would want my son to attend college feeling locked in a cage. My sense of security was challenged yesterday, but I cannot let that destroy my hope and expectations for my son. He needs to experience life just as I have had the chance to experience life, taking both the good and the bad, the risks and the certainties.

It’s times like these that I wish my mother was still alive. I would ask her how she survived the letting go, how she set the worry aside long enough to let me find my own way in life, how she balanced the fear with the encouragement.

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