Lent II: What’s the worst they can do to you?
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often had I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you were not willing? Luke 13:34
Victoria “Vicki” Soto, one of the teachers killed in Newtown, CT came from Stratford, CT., where I served as the priest of CT’s oldest Episcopal parish. Vicki attended High School there, and after her education at Eastern Connecticut State, started to teach in Newtown at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. She had taught there for five years. The Soto’s had been sometime members of the parish, connected by the marriage of Juan Soto and Amy ten years ago and the resulting baptisms of their two babes. Vicki’s father was a soccer coach to the children of a number of families in the parish. Vicki loved teaching her first grade class in Sandy Hook. “ That ‘Friday morning she went to the school library to find what she described as the ‘perfect” book for her first graders that day’, Soto’s colleague Yvonne Cech, the library media specialist, said the next day” *.
Cech said, “It was just before 9 a.m. when she helped Soto find the book, “What do you do with a Tail Like this?” “The book explores the amazing things animals can do with their ears, eyes, mouths, noses, feet and tails. She was an amazing and wonderful teacher”, Cech said. “ She loved her kids. It seemed that at the start of each year she loved them automatically.”
When the mad young killer rampaged through the school at Sandy Hook, Victoria gathered the children and hid them in closets and cabinets behind her to protect them. She and co- teacher Ann Marie Murphy (52) were gathering the children when they came face to face with the killer. Both Victoria and Ann Marie shielded the students from the young man, saving ten of the fifteen of her beloved charges. Ann Marie was found with her favorite student cradled protectively in her arms.
They like hens gathered their brood under their wings. Most they were able to save.
“Victoria loved the children” her sister Jillian said, “she’d come home with stories about her “angels” her kids and how funny they were.”
A week ago the Stratford School Committee named a new school after Victoria Soto. “She will always be remembered said her sister.” Victoria was 27 years old.
The old organizer asked, “What’s the worst they can do to you? Kill you?” There are a lot worse things than death: Like watching children die and doing nothing; feeling powerless as a loved one suffers, being a coward in the face of abuse; and continually looking the other way at injustice. .
Jesus uses the image of the hen gathering her brood when he looks at Jerusalem. Sometimes there are worse things than dying, sometimes you have to do what you can to gather the brood, the little ones and do what ever you can. You probably won’t have to die in the process; few know what they would have done when facing the barrel of a gun. Most of us won’t have to face that decision
Clearly Victoria, Ann Marie the Principal of the school and the three other adults who died that day had hearts of love great enough to place themselves between the killer and the children.
Maybe the only thing that can move us out of fear is a love so deep that it is stronger than fear. On that day Jesus confronted the killers and bullies of his own day. Out of love for us he gave his life up so that we might have life and have it abundantly. What is the one thing that would move you from fear to a love so fierce that you would stand up to a Herod or a bully? What after all is the worst they can do to you? Kill you? I think, maybe not. Maybe the worst is to live in a fear or laziness that keeps me from confronting those who do harm to the little ones, the vulnerable, the creation, and the animals with tails and mouths and noses and eyes and ears and who can do all kinds of wonderful things.
I suspect there will grow from this tragedy a generation of teachers who, like Victoria and the others, will live through their grief and fear and continue to be the hens who gather their broods under their wings and protect them with their fierce love. This I believe. We have been witnesses to the love of one of God’s great ones. Victoria “Vicki” Soto of Stratford, Connecticut.