Putting life into perspective

By Tammy Keith Originally Published December 23, 2012 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated December 21, 2012 at 9:55 a.m.
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Christmas was suddenly put into perspective when we heard about Newtown, Conn.

I was at work, even though I was supposed to be off, because meeting a deadline was more important to me than spending a day with my husband.

A co-worker came in and asked if we’d heard about it. We hadn’t, but we all went to the newspaper website and saw the horrible news.

She was especially upset because she has children the ages of the ones killed. It’s sad to everyone, but when you have young children, you can imagine that it was their classroom.

You know they’ll have questions and maybe even be afraid to go to school.

It brought back memories of the Westside shooting near Jonesboro, where my parents and brother and his family live. My mother was a teacher at the time, although not in the school district where the shooting occurred. My husband covered the school board of that small school when we worked at the Jonesboro newspaper.

We were in Conway, and my brother was doing his surgery residency in New York City when it happened. He said someone stopped him in the hospital hallway and asked, “Aren’t you from Jonesboro? A teacher was shot there.”

He had moments of panic before finding out it wasn’t Mom. Someone called me in Conway to ask, and my heart stopped.

Two boys, 11 and 13, had killed five people at the school: four students and a teacher.

Later, my mother filed charges when a former student came on the high school campus where she taught, pointed his finger at her, called her a name and made the sound of a gun. He also stuck his head in her classroom and said, “Boom!”

My brother and I were scared to death for her. Later, that thug was arrested for something and shot at a sheriff. We were right to be scared, and she didn’t retire too soon for us.

I covered a shooting once that has stayed with me all these years. A man shot his children, ages 4 and 5, then himself. I went to the scene and saw those little babies brought out in sheets. I interviewed his ex-wife. I will never forget sitting in her living room as she smoked cigarette after cigarette and alternately screamed and cried. I remember tears dropping on my notebook as I wrote. The photographer was crying as she shot pictures. We did our jobs, but we’re human.

I was pregnant with my second son at the time. When I got home, I hugged my sweet 3-year-old and kissed him again and again. I woke up in the middle of the night shaking and crying.

The law enforcement officers involved in the case, the photographer and I went to a counseling session. No matter how seasoned or tough, when children are involved, it’s hard to handle.

Heartbreaking stories like the one in Connecticut make us, for at least a little while, realize what’s important. It’s a terrible way to be reminded. Yesterday, I kissed both my now-grown sons, and whether I find the last Christmas gift on time or make a deadline, being able to do that is enough.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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