There are no words, and yet, there are an infinite number of thoughts and feelings to describe what happened yesterday in a pretty town located in the northeastern state of Connecticut.
My husband called me with the news. At a stop sign, I stopped and glanced down at my phone and the New York Times website.
The words were aggressive in large print black and white.
27 dead in shooting. 20 children.
The news implied that most if not all of the children were in Kindergarten.
A few days ago I attended my son’s puppet show. Kindergarten, Room # 2, Chief Joseph Elementary. It’s just another ordinary elementary school in a city not entirely untroubled, but not too bad off relatively speaking. A few dozen parents watched 29 bright five- and six-year-olds taking turns introducing their puppet – an animal who lives in the sea – and its special qualities. I enjoy theater, and this was the best performance I’ve seen all year.
At another school far across the country, I picture 29 children lining up to wash their hands before snack, sit at desks practicing their letters, and listen to their teachers reading a book or demonstrating a simple skill. I can’t go any further than that because what comes next is beyond most people’s worst nightmares.
We live in a time of great uncertainty, financial discomfort and competing priorities at any given time. Threatening news reaches us from everywhere, all the time… terrorism, traffic, PTSD. Streets may not be safe. Parks may not be safe. Shopping malls and movie theaters… not so safe.
But School should be safe.
There is no question in my mind that our children should enter a school without a greater worry than passing their spelling test, making a new friend, or maybe, sadly, confronting or avoiding a bully in the classroom (and bullying is scary, unsafe, and should not be ignored).
School leadership, the principal and support staff and cafeteria workers and aides and parent volunteers, should be safe.
The teachers should be safe.
The children should be safe.
Over the next few days much more will be revealed about what transpired in Newton, Connecticut. There will be details of more action. More shock. More terror. More heartbreak.
I know I’ll read each of the twenty or more obituaries of the kindergarteners who died.
The words kindergarten and obituary shouldn’t be in the same sentence.
President Obama addressed the nation. Everyone watching witnessed him pause, take a breath, and struggle to address a senseless incident to people at home wondering what to think and how to respond to a series of actions so horrific and so permanent.
Among his remarks, he said:
Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors, as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children home tonight, they know that their children’s innocence has been torn away from them too early and there are no words that will ease their pain.
I have often imagined my sister as a greeter of angels. I picture her greeting each of the Newton children, one by one. Hello, Margaret, hi James, hey Nicole! You’re OK now. You’re safe. I’m here to help.
I wonder if I might be able to help. I’m a survivor, too. I’m not a bereaved parent, but as someone who has experienced unexpected and senseless loss, I might be able to help. I can at least pray. And coming from an agnostic, that means something, right?
Nearly three dozen beautiful children are – poof! – gone, in an instant. We hope. Or maybe they are gone – painfully, suffering, scared – it’s too much to consider right now.
I started a letter to a family who I don’t yet know tonight. It may serve as the draft for something bigger. I don’t know much, but what I do know is that the work of one person can make a difference.
We are in the midst of a season known by many around the world for hope, the miracle of light, the birth of a savior, unity, collective work and purpose, giving and faith. I believe no one piece is greater than the other. We are young, old, male, female, poor, rich, humble, arrogant. None of us can predict what happens tomorrow.
I cannot offer profound reflection. I can only echo the thoughts and prayers of those near and far, and I appreciate the reflections of those whom I’ve spoken to about the tragedy in Newton.
May the families of Newton discover a moment of peace, an unknown courage, and a deep well of strength and love from which they may draw deeply from tonight.
P.S. And one more thing. Ordinary people should NOT feel compelled to own assault weapons or handguns.