I don’t have any words to convey how I feel about the tragedy in Newtown. I have only these three personal stories to share, and for some reason I feel compelled to do so.
Yesterday, after a beautiful, candlelight- and allelulia-filled Lessons & Carols service at our church, we came home in the spitting rain for a late dinner. It had been a day jammed with errands and details, with the minutiae that compose our lives: haircuts, buying skates, frosting gingerbread cookies, shopping online for a last-minute presence for a best friend, an early hockey game. At each step I felt heavy with awareness of what a privilege every single one of those small things was. Whit was difficult at dinner, picky about his food, and I just blew up. I lost it. Matt encouraged me to go upstairs, and after stomping out to make a point (that point being I am such a martyr) by taking the trash out in the driving rain, I did that. I closed my bedroom door and folded laundry, and as I smoothed a pair of Whit’s long johns I sat down on the bed, overcome with sobs. I was flooded with powerful guilt: how can I possibly be so ungrateful, when there are families out there tonight who would give anything for the privilege of a bickering child at the dinner table? How?
This morning, I walked both Grace and Whit to the gate of school as I always do. I had to go home before the 4th grade’s morning assembly, so I kissed them goodbye and jogged back to the car. Once I’d crossed the street I turned and watched their backpacks and hooded heads (again, raining) walk away from me. I was swamped with feelings: sorrow, fear, guilt, grief, gratitude. I sat in the car and let them wash over me and then, tears still falling, I drove home.
Half an hour later I sat in one of the assembly rooms at school as Grace’s 4th grade class filed in. The parents sat in a row against the back wall of the room, and the floor in between was filled with the younger grades all sitting criss-cross applesauce. This was a previously-scheduled “environment assembly,” and the theme was taking care of our earth. I’m willing to bet I wasn’t the only parent who was thinking of other things, however, as our children stood and sang in their clear, true voices, about how is “time to turn the tide.” Tears swam in my eyes. I looked around the room at the teachers who have cared for and shepherded my children over the years with a new and passionate admiration. A few minutes later the 4th grade sang Big Yellow Taxi, and the words I know by heart rang out, filled with an unexpected, chilling resonance: Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone.
So much is gone. Of course, of course, a million, unquantifiable times more for the families that lost loved ones in Newtown. But for all of us, too. In my opinion, his incursion on one of the world’s truly sacred spaces – an elementary school – has altered the world we live in forever.
This is the darkest week of the darkest season. Friday is the darkest day of the year. And yet how much more pressing this new darkness feels, this darkness wrought of an incomprehensible act, this darkness from the heart of someone who was a fellow human being. We are moving towards the solstice, and there is still so much here I do not understand.
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