The other night, I sat at church and watched the Christmas concert for my sons’ Catholic school. I watched with an overflowing heart as my kindergartner and my big first grader sang, one with a giant smile on his face, the other studiously singing the words as he seemed to be scanning the audience. They stood among their friends and classmates, all of them decked out in their Christmas best. They were the very faces and minds and pureness of the innocence that the Christmas season promises every year. Their equally well dressed parents, friends and teachers watched and reflected the children’s excitement. It was a building that, even before the concert started, was rumbling in the excited talk and laughter of the children and parents alike, to the point where a member of the faculty had to remind all of where we were. It was a building filled with such joy.
And it was a night that was dedicated the the victims and families of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. It seemed like such an appropriate tribute.
Like much of the country and all decent human beings, I have desperately struggled against the sadness of this senseless attack. It’s a sadness, I think, that may lie in our souls for a long time. A sadness that will fall to the depths of the scars that we all still feel from September 11, 2001. A friend of mine recently talked how she will be walking around happy, having a good time and then think about what happened and instantly be filled with panic and sadness. I think it is a range of emotions that many of us share. As a parent, the thought of what those parents of those innocents are going through is unbearable. It is impossible to not project those losses into our own lives and families.
My sons are the joys of my life. I have no doubt in my mind that the reason I am on this earth is to be Benjamin and Matthew’s father and to do all I can to give them a happy life. If I accomplish nothing else in life except to raise two happy, loving boys into two happy, loving men then my life will have been a success. The thought that one person in a single instant could wipe that all out is terrifying. That fact that one man did exactly that to so many families has me living in a perpetual heart break.
In the days since the attack, I have found myself relishing in my sons’ laughter, love and even pestering. I find myself just starring at them in wonder. However, there are times when I need to turn away from them to hide tears because, it is hard to watch them without feeling a sense of remorse and guilt for all those fathers in Newtown that have lost their joys. I guess it is a sort of survivors guilt, even though my sons were secure and safe, hundreds of miles away. I take some comfort in my belief that those 26 souls have made their way to heaven, but I mourn the hell that has been left behind in Newtown. The fact that it is Christmas, the season that is suppose to be all about the children, these feelings get amplified to the point where I just want to take down the Christmas decorations and move on.
Of course, that is not possible because it is the season of children and forgetting that and not celebrating our children would not be honoring the memories of those lost. For now, I keep my grief hidden away from them and do my best to repair my heart with their laughter.
I am doing all I can to make this the best Christmas my sons have ever had as some small way to honor the families of the victims. It is a dark Christmas for them which makes me feel like I need to do more to make our Christmas brighter. I’ve become more patient with them, taking time to help them fix the LEGO village under the tree that they destroyed. I have stopped doing far less important things to check out how the Christmas pig is riding the crane (don’t ask). Last night, I walked into the family room where the TV was still on and saw a message on the screen that it was about to power down because there was no activity for four hours because we were all upstairs playing and talking and laughing. The pile of presents from Santa in the basement seems to have doubled since last Friday. There is little I can do for those Newtown families, but there is so much I can do for my own.
During the concert, the principal, used the metaphor of the children being the brightest lights in this world, and that is so true.
So often, we face evil and sadness and pain in this world. So often, there are people that suffer and struggle in the darkness that sometimes seems to dominate this world. When the darkness lashes out at the tiniest, most innocent, yet brightest lights in our world, the sadness becomes that much more profound.
We struggle for answers on how to battle the shadows that live in people’s souls. I am sure the answer lies only partly somewhere between the polarized sides of the gun debate and how we help the mentally ill in this country. I know that the biggest part of the answer lies in that raucous building of children, educators and parents and in similar buildings around this nation and this world. Whether it be a church, temple, mosque, a kitchen table, a mud hut or any place that people gather in love and joy, embracing hope and faith. It doesn’t matter if that faith is in God (or gods), science or ourselves. We fight the darkness by passing that faith, hope and love on to the children with the hope that the next generation will grow up in a better, brighter world.
During the concert, I also found myself staring at my sons’ teachers and the rest of the school’s faculty. I really wanted to go up and hug each one of them, because I don’t doubt the love they have for our children and what they do. Many are parents themselves and I can only imagine what a painful time it must be for them. Yet, there they were, smiling and laughing and celebrating our children. May God bless them and educators everywhere and may God watch over our children and the families of Sandy Hook.