I finally faced the unspeakable tragedy of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre Tuesday morning at precisely 12:54 a.m. on Facebook while watching the moving rendition of Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah” performed by the cast of NBC’s “The Voice."
It wasn’t necessarily the performance, heartfelt and emotional as it was, that summoned the tears. It was more like the last levee protecting my fragile emotions bursting.
In these past few days, numb from the 24-hour media blitz and distracted by a small supporting role in Newtown Patch’s superb and sensitive coverage of the attack and its devastating emotional aftermath, I was able to focus on what we journalists focus on in times of crisis: helping to tell the story of what happened and put it into context for our readers.
12:54 a.m. Tuesday changed that for me. It jarred me out of journalism mode and stripped away that last, thin membrane of professionalism, laid my emotions bare and forced me to confront the shootings on the most basic level: as a parent.
My son turns 11 just after Christmas, and my daughter is celebrating her 4th birthday today. My other son is 7 — the age of many of the victims in the Newtown massacre. These precious angels from Newtown, whose lives were so callously truncated by an evil so unimaginable, so unspeakable — those are my children.
Newtown is my town. Newtown is your town. That adorable blond-haired girl with the laughing eyes could be my daughter. That precocious boy with the knack for one-liners reminds me of my son. The principal who rushed toward the gunfire and the teachers who hid their students to keep them safe could have easily been my sister-in-law or high school classmate. There is no escape from that guttural truth.
I weep for all of them, and also for us, because now we must confront the fact that this can happen in any community like Newtown where parents feel safe and look forward to their children growing up and chasing their dreams in a protective cocoon of friends, family and teachers.
Looking at the buoyant faces of the victims in newspapers and on television reports is like peering into the eyes of a thousand kids I’ve coached in youth sports, or grew up with, or been a devoted uncle, cousin or parent to. Those children had everything in front of them — developing meaningful relationships, the myriad joys of a fulfilled life, families of their own — and in an instant it was cruelly snatched.
I was proud of our president when he visited Newtown on Sunday. He was the embodiment of a leader that day, focusing on the families and spending time with the siblings and relatives of those who had been killed. It gave me hope that in the ensuing rancor surrounding gun-control legislation and mental-health funding and school security the president might serve as a beacon of clarity and common sense.
But no matter, it will take Newtown a long time to heal. In time, the rhythms of daily life will replace the crass hum of network satellite trucks, and the groundswell of volunteerism and drumbeat of activism will fade, and the town will need to summon the strength to get back on its feet and move forward. But for the parents and loved ones of these children, life will never be the same.
I cry this morning for the children taken too soon from this life. I cry for their relatives. I cry for the town of Newtown. But most of all, I cry for humankind, and what it portends now that parents must watch their kindergartners and first-graders clamber onto their school buses in the morning chill, their legs barely long enough to scale the first step, and wonder if today is their 12/14/12.
Godspeed, heroes and angels of Newtown. May you rest in peace, and may you never be forgotten.