Like all of America -- and the world, for that matter -- I mourn those killed in Friday's tragic school shooting in Connecticut and share the grief felt by those who survived.
The heartbreak of such an event is unimaginable. And yet, as a parent, it is actually a heartbreak that I must confess to imagining on all too many occasions.
It is a confession that I hate to make, but I am willing to bet that I am not the only parent who has experienced such horrific thoughts.
The last time it happened for me was only last Tuesday. I had been reading and studying and was disconnected from the outside world. My wife came home to tell me about the shooting at a suburban mall outside Portland, Ore. My youngest daughter, who was supposed to come home the next day, goes to school at Portland State University and has been known to frequent an occasional food court at a suburban mall or two.
I tried to be reasonable about the whole thing. This mall was southeast of downtown Portland where she lives and she doesn't have a car and she was probably in class or maybe working, but still ....
Yes, but still ...
My heart leapt into my throat and I did what any worried modern father would do to get in touch with his 20-year-old daughter -- I hurriedly sent a text message. It read: "Are you OK? Heard about shooting. Was worried." It was only 13 minutes later that I received a glorious reply, which read: "I'm totally okay. Clackamas
That response allowed me to exhale and offer a little prayer of gratitude. She later told me that one of her friends was actually in the food court when the shooting began and she had to bolt out of there so quickly that she left her cellphone on one of the tables.
The same thing had happened a few months earlier with my oldest daughter, who goes to college at the Art Institute of Seattle and works downtown.
A gunman had gone on a killing rampage in the Emerald City and areas of downtown had been closed and a search for the shooter was under way. Details about it were sketchy, but there were dead people and there was chaos. The same dynamic occurred inside me in that case: sudden gut-swirling concern (OK, fright), a frantic search for details, a mental calculation as to the odds, an inner voice telling me to remain calm, a text from worried modern dad, a rapid response from loving daughter assuring modern dad of her safety and a gigantic sigh of relief and prayer of gratitude from modern dad.
About 18 months ago, I experienced a similar event with my son, who goes to college at the University of Nevada in Reno.
News flashed across the screen on the day that there had been a devastating crash into the grandstands at the Reno Air Races, many killed, many more injured.
As I sat there, I found myself imagining those "unimaginable" thoughts: This was an event that my son would like and might attend; classes had not yet begun so he would have free time; he might be at work; but wait, oh no, he works at the airport!
That realization caused me to skip right over the calming inner voice step, but the rest of them were taken: concern, detail search, calculations of odds, text from modern dad, a somewhat delayed response from modern son, an immense sigh of relief, a drop in blood pressure and a prayer of gratitude.
I would venture that there are plenty of parents who identify with those feelings of relief. They might chuckle about it afterward or feel a little foolish or even narcissistic.
But I think the truth is that it is what most parents do. It's right there in the job description: "must be worried at all times about safety of children." It was not until I became a father that I understood why my parents had been so unreasonably and ridiculously concerned about the safety of their only child.
While I am incredibly grateful for those sighs of relief that I have been blessed to enjoy, Friday's tragedy in Connecticut reminds me that such concerns are not necessarily silly or unfounded.
There are many, many parents and family members in Connecticut and around the country who do not get to receive that reassuring text or breathe that sign of relief. They now must endure the unbelievable pain of tragic and senseless loss.
It is a pain that will never leave them. How could it?
Unfortunately, I have nothing to give them that will ease their pain or help them cope. I don't think anyone can. All we can do is offer them our deepest condolences and sympathies. Today, I say prayers for them.
Dan Hatfield is the editorial page editor for the Bay Area News Group's East Bay newspapers.