When the reality of what happened in Sandy Hook fully registered, I was filled with helpless rage. Twenty children and six adults were mercilessly gunned down by an allegedly mentally ill man who had legal access to assault weapons; firearms so powerful they allowed this alienated individual to transform himself into his own self-styled Rambo.
Why weren't we all taking to the streets, banging pots and pans like those women in Egypt? I wanted to open the window of my apartment in Brooklyn and yell, "Enough is enough!" Maybe others would join in. From our fire escapes and front stoops, we'd all be shouting and wouldn't stop until something was done.
In the days following the shooting, I didn't sleep well. With a sudden start, I'd wake in the middle of the night, picturing the parents of those children. Were they able to sleep or eat or even speak? I imagined the mothers waking each day to the horror of what happened; their minds returning again and again to their children's last moments, unable to make sense of this violent, sudden loss.
The pain of this national tragedy had shaken me from complacency. It was no longer enough to wring my hands and hope for better days to come. It was no longer enough to hold my kids close and feel grateful they were spared when other children, just as sweet or silly, were not.
Sandy Hook had chosen love, but I was still mad as hell.
With tears in my eyes, I vowed to a friend that I would dedicate part of my life to help put protections in place that would prevent another massacre of innocents. Like so many others, I searched for ways to engage politically. I signed online petitions for stricter gun regulations, wrote letters to Congress and posted editorials about gun control on social media.
But as days turned into weeks, it was difficult to maintain the fervor without feeling a bit shrill, strident or even downright annoying. After a while, I got the feeling that my friends and neighbors wanted me to stop my lunatic shouting onto the street and just shut my goddamn window.
Fast forward one month.
The Brooklyn chapter of One Million Moms for Gun Control had organized a protest against gun violence in my neighborhood. Hundreds of mothers were to convene at a plaza just four blocks from my apartment. From the plaza, they would march across the Brooklyn Bridge to rally in front of City Hall.
The founder of One Million Moms, Shannon Watts, had mobilized thousands of mothers across the country via social media. Watts, a mother of five, had shared that desire to do something after the Sandy Hook shooting. She ended up creating her own little Arab Spring from her home in Zionsville, Indiana.
A neighbor who shared my perspective on gun control had invited me to the protest. Without hesitation, I accepted the invitation. But I woke up to a cold front. It was 26 degrees outside. That's pretty darn cold by New York standards. An email update for the event encouraged protesters to bundle up and wear long underwear. Upon reading it, I felt a sense of dread normally reserved for unwanted family obligations.
As I showered, I imagined fighting the winds on the bridge and shivering through tedious speeches by city council members. Nothing in me wanted to go to the protest. I came up with a million reasons why I didn't need to go, not the least of which was the fact that I already lived in a state that just passed some of the strictest gun control legislation in the country.
Digging through my dresser drawer in search of long johns, I wondered if the effort would fall on deaf ears, if the fight for change was futile, if it was healthier to just focus on my own family and let go of the rest.
A month earlier, I had been so vocal and unwavering in my anti-gun opinions, promising to do everything in my power to help change legislation. Yet, that day an opportunity to exercise the hard-won freedom to assemble was practically thrown in my lap and I felt ambivalent.
My iPhone calendar alert sounded a soft alarm: MLK Day: Protest at Cadman Plaza. The electronic reminder settled my confusion. This was a national holiday commemorating a man who worked unceasingly to create a humane society through nonviolent resistance. I had always been proud that I shared the same birthday with Dr. King. I spent much of middle school in the library reading his great orations. His words gave me both goosebumps and a moral grounding.
Given the dire state of our country and planet, maybe it was no longer sufficient to simply be inspired by the words of great men. Maybe at some point in our lives, we must act.
I pulled on my long johns and got dressed.
Several hundred people had gathered in the plaza for the One Million Moms rally. I couldn't help thinking there should've been more, but I now understood what we were up against. We were all frogs doing the backstroke in slowly boiling water.
I scanned the plaza in search of the neighbor who'd invited me. Apparently, she didn't make it.
A woman handed me a hand-painted sign that said Magazines are for Reading. I found a few fellow mothers from my daughter's preschool and away we went. The blustery winds ripped right through us as we marched across the iconic bridge. Despite wool gloves and socks, our fingertips and toes went numb. But I felt happy and whole again as I held up my sign for all the camera crews and the honking horns of oncoming traffic.
I was finally doing something. And something was probably better than nothing. Our hand-painted protest signs were like bright splashes of hope against the gray winter sky.