I wrote this while feeling hopeless and desperate. I asked for help, and help arrived…
I stood in line at the grocery store, patiently waiting for the people ahead of me to finish. A mom and her daughter; the girl filled with excitement and anticipation, her mom too busy to notice much more than the bottom line displayed on the register readout as it went incredibly higher, and higher: $68.35, then 97.32, a few more items, then 110.87.
As the last item rolled down the treadmill a look of relief crossed her face, probably mentally subtracting the groceries from the balance sheet in her head. She swiped her card, and the little girl stared at me, and I stared back. I tried to smile, but all I could think of was the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school this time just five years ago, and how this little girl could easily be just a memory.
She smiled anyway, oblivious to the thoughts in my head, and it brought me out of my reverie, and I managed to give her a lopsided grin, then she was gone, following her mom out of the store, mesmerized by the ornate holiday decorations as only a six year old at Christmastime can be.
I wondered then about the homes in Newtown, Connecticut, and the empty places where the Christmas trees would be. Try as I might to make sense of the tragedy and put it behind me, and think of it as some aberration; a blip in the serenity that I try so hard to convey every December, it was impossible. All I lost that day was a temporary suspension of my own manifestation of goodwill toward men, and peace on earth. I did not lose a child, or a mother, sister, daughter, or friend. My life moved on, what Christmas Spirit I had managed to create lost, but likely easily re-ignited. I would be able to fake it and get through the season, and make the next one better.
But what of the people directly affected? What happened in December, 2012 cannot be dismissed, or rationalized, or prayed away. For them, their lives will forever be scarred. Time will not heal their wounds; time will allow the anger and disillusionment to fester, and the hopelessness of it all to seep in. We get old, and as we age the magic in life becomes harder and harder to capture.
Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone, and the thrill of living ended abruptly for the victims and families of Sandy Hook.
I’m just a guy in Rhode Island who had nothing to do with any of it, yet still I find it difficult to forget the events that happened that day, and move away from the thought that such madness can coincide with the joy that the Christmas season brings. It is unfathomable to me that so many people had their faith, innocence and optimism taken away from them, and must live with the harsh reality that life veered out of control with no warning, and nothing would ever be the same.
I hope that little girl in the grocery store never has to think about these things, and that her mother keeps her as safe as she can, and manages to somehow provide a magical Christmas for her. Grant me that, and I’ll never ask for another thing for Christmas.
My Christmas wish was answered a few days later by “Anonomous from Sandy Hook, ” who read my words and was compelled to respond:
“Thank you for remembering our community. It’s so hard to answer the question of how we’re all doing since so many people are at different places in the healing process.
We will never forget and there are some scars that can never be healed. Our community has been forever changed. Our children who survived were robbed of their childhood innocence and forced to grow up faster than you can ever imagine.
In a Remembrance Mass last night, we certainly prayed for those families and first responders who experienced hell on earth three years ago. But we were also reminded that it’s in our moments of greatest weakness that we often gather our greatest strength.
Our community has been blessed with the true meaning of compassion and kindness and we are reminded of the pure love and goodness that those victims represented innocent, happy, loving children and educators who sacrificed their own lives to protect those children.
Christmas does live on, those trees are still lit in the homes that were directly affected and Sandy Hook Center just celebrated another beautiful tree lighting.
There is joy this time of year, but also a great amount of conflicting pain for many who are still broken.