One Year

When I lay in bed this morning, in the dark quiet before the dawn, the first thing that came into my head was the song, “Seasons of Love.”

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

It’s been one year today since the awful tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.  I can still remember the day so vividly, and so many of the days afterwards.  The terror, the fear, the tragedy, right here in my own backyard.

In the past year I’ve become increasingly involved with one of the families affected by that terrible day.  I’ve gotten to to know them and am now working with them on the foundation they’ve set up to raise funds in their child’s memory.  Their spirit and ability to move forward has just astounded me.  Today, this family quietly marks the day in a tropical location far away, away from the sadness and the madness that they hoped wouldn’t happen here.  I’ve seen how this family has been able to find their son in a million tiny moments every single day.  I’ve seen how they’ve been able to truly take this tragedy and create from it a life filled with passion and love and hope for the future of others.  How they’ve surrounded themselves with energy and light instead of darkness.

The bracelets they had made for their foundation, coincidentally, have imprinted on them:  “Measure your life in love.”  As I look back on the last year, I am proud to say that I have taken that oath and brought more love, more laughter, more gratitude into my own life.  I’ve done that by working with this family, working with others, donating my time and energy.  And it has come back to me in so many ways.

Today, five thousand twenty five hundred six hundred minutes later, I am praying for all of those who measured this past year in those excruciating increments as they moved forward from unspeakable tragedy. I am hoping that everyone affected by the awful events that happened one year ago today are able to measure their lives in the love that surrounds them today, and every day. We are here for you, thinking of you, and hold you in our hearts.

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments so dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love

Seasons of love
Seasons of love

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand journeys to plan
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure the life of a woman or a man?

In truths that she learned
Or in times that he cried
In bridges he burned
Or the way that she died

It’s time now, to sing out
Though the story never ends
Let’s celebrate
Remember a year in the life of friends

Remember the love
(Oh, you got to, you got to remember the love)
Remember the love
(You know that love is a gift from up above)
Remember the love
(Share love, give love, spread love)
Measure in love
(Measure, measure your life in love)

Seasons of love
Seasons of love
(Measure your life, measure your life in love)

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43

I turned 43 a week ago today.

It was a quiet day.  Birthdays at this age aren’t the source of fanfare they used to be.  Still, it was nice day filled with good wishes and friendly camaraderie.   My girlfriends had taken me out a few days before, my family took me out the day after, and all manner of far flung people filled my cell phone and Facebook page with their thoughts.

I’ve always said that getting older doesn’t really bother me.  In fact, I try to revel in the fact that I am extremely healthy and look young for my age, despite having a child in his twenties.  Certainly I’ve never even thought about lying about my age; as it is, people still greet my eldest’s age and station in life with shock.  I see them do the math in their heads when I tell them how old he is, how old I am.  Still, all told, 43 isn’t a problem for me.

I’ll be 43 this year, the year I become a grandmother.

My son and his wife shared their news with us this weekend, four days after my birthday.  They are expecting their first child, in March.

So many thoughts have occurred to me since the moment they told us.  They seem so, so young.  Except they’re five years older than I was when I had him.  They seem so unprepared, but yet they both still have good jobs.  I was still in college when I had my son.  They’ll need to move, to find a bigger place, but they’re still out on their own.  I was living at home, with my mom, when my son was born.

Everything I hear myself saying about how they’re not ready yet to be parents flies in the face of my own experiences.  And I worked it out, made a good life for my child, my children.  Right?

I want to happy for them, but I am so worried for them.  I wanted my son to not make any of the same mistakes that I did, and to have a much different experience than I had as a young adult.  I wanted him to revel in his twenties, have that time to enjoy life and travel and not worry about every penny, not worry about tomorrow and just have fun.

But I raised this boy to be responsible, thoughtful, and goal oriented.  So he’s done it all right:  gone to college, gotten his degree, gotten married, lived on his own, saved his money.   He didn’t waste his time partying because it simply isn’t in him.  I hope he feels that he’s had a lot of wonderful experiences, that he’s enjoyed his life as a young man.  Because his life is about to change dramatically.  It won’t ever be the same.  And most of the time, that will be wonderful, amazing, a gift that he will always cherish.

I hope they’re ready.  I pray they are ready.  And I wish, against all hope, that somehow the universe will hear me.

The Thousandth Mile

I’ve mentioned before that I live in Monroe, CT.  We here have been deeply affected by the events that took place on 12/14.  I wrote extensively about the charity 5K I put together (with a lot of help!).  One of the groups that benefitted from that race was the Race4Chase organization.  They get involved with various athletic events and encourage runners especially to run to raise money for their foundation, the Chase Kowalski Foundation.  Chase was an avid runner, even at 7.  He had competed in races and triathalons.  His energy and spirit are the rationale behind the cause.

Monroe is one of those places that people don’t leave.  It’s a small town in close enough proximity to NYC that there are plenty of reasons to stay.  Not only is it beautiful here, but there is a true sense of community here.  The people here are so nice; nicer than pretty much anywhere I’ve lived, and that includes my own hometown in Michigan.  Chase’s parents grew up here in Monroe, and didn’t go far.  They live next door in the Sandy Hook area of Newtown.  A lot of their friends from high school also live nearby, including one named Kevin Bresnahan.

Kevin is a runner, and not long after last December’s tragedy, he had the brainstorm to run a 1,000 miles this year in honor of Chase.  He’d heard that Chase had loved running and races, so he thought it was the one thing he could do to help.  He asked people to sponsor his miles, at $10 per mile.  His efforts actually helped give focus to the idea that eventually became Race4Chase, running to raise money for the foundation.  He started a blog to journal about each and every mile, and it can be read here:  1000 Miles 4 Chase.

He started last January.  I started reading it back then, and it was amazing to watch the miles, and the money, add up.  Kevin ran our local 5K as part of those miles, and I joined him for another 5K later that month.  He ran, and ran, and ran.  And lo and behold, the miles have added up.  This weekend, he finished.

As he neared the end, Kevin and some of the friends of the Kowalski family hatched an idea to share that last mile of his journey.  He worked with them to plan a route, a meeting place, get a police escort, and a big party for afterwards.  The last mile started at Chalk Hill School, where the Sandy Hook students now go.  It ended at their good friend’s house, just a mile away.  So meaningful.

This weekend was that last mile, and I was one of nearly 100 people who came out to complete that last mile with Kevin.  It was an awe inspiring, amazing time.   It was hot, so much of the route was walked by most of us, and I walked up part of the route with Becky Kowalski.  What an amazing energy and spirit she has.  She was upbeat, and positive, and even joked about how much she hated running, and why couldn’t Chase had loved a different sport that was less taxing?   She was incredible.

At the end, Kevin held Becky’s hand and ran through a finish line in their friend’s yard.  Then they both jumped in the pool to cool off.  And stayed to party with everyone who had come out in support of them.  It was friendship and love and support and faith and strength all together in one thirty minute span of time.

They inspire me.

Now I Know

Yesterday was an emotional day for me.

What I didn’t mention in my previous post about the race I’m putting together is that it has two components:  a main 5K and a kids’ fun run.  The fun run has always been kind of an afterthought to the race, and almost didn’t even happen last year.

When I heard that one of the Sandy Hook kids was an alumni of our kids’ race, it wasn’t too much of a stretch to think of putting that part of our race on in his honor this year.  Because his parents grew up in our town, they’ve all been part of the race.  In fact, this little boy’s grandfather has worked on the 5K for years as part of our volunteer EMS crew.

Several of my friends know the family, because their kids went to preschool with this little boy here in our town.  I asked one of them to reach out to the family to see if they would be interested in having our kids’ run be in honor of their little boy.

They were.

So for the last few months, I’ve been quietly putting together this part of our run with a group of women who know the family.  One of them is a good friend of mine, the rest I’d never met before.  In a matter of three weeks they’d raised thousands of dollars for the event.  They reached out to local and national business to gain sponsorships, donations, you name it.

I’ve tried to focus on the nuts and bolts of it, because this?  I don’t get to feel sad about this little boy.  He’s not mine, he’s not part of my world.   I didn’t know him, didn’t know the family.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, I went to a meeting with a member of their foundation that our race will benefit, and this little boy’s mom.  I was nervous.  How would I introduce myself?  Was it appropriate to say how sorry I was?  How much I’ve thought about them, prayed for them, ran for them?

In the end, it was like meeting someone you have always known.  She is friends with my good friend, so the odds were good that we’d end up getting along just fine, and we did.  It was a little awkward at first as she and my girlfriend caught up (they hadn’t seen each other in a few months), but as we all got more friendly, the conversation flowed more easily.  There was a lot of laughter, a few tears, and a naked honesty that I was impressed with and humbled by.  There were stories.  There was determination.
There was even a little gossip.

We spent two hours sharing thoughts and food.  I thanked her for meeting with me and she drove off, in her minivan, moving on and forward.  But I stood there in the parking lot, wanting to burst into tears.  I could feel the weight of what had happened to her, to her child, to this community, just hanging there all around me.  And I felt so wrong for feeling that way:  if she could be so positive and energetic, I certainly had no business wallowing in my emotions.

So I will take that sadness, that frustration that we all felt in those dark days after December 14, and I will use them.  I will use them to make this race, the kids’ run and the main race, as wonderful and as successful as I possibly can.  I will honor this little boy with this race, with this day, with this event, in every way that I can.  It’s the thing I can do.  And I will do it.

An Open Letter to Those Who Doubt Sandy Hook

There is a hard underbelly in the aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown that I’ve been wanting to address for a while now, but have scarcely wanted to acknowledge it for fear of perpetuating it. But my disgust and anger is so full and complete these days that I can hardly contain it.

At first, in the days after the tragedy, I found in some corners of the internet an outrage against the outrage.  That is, there was a small but vocal contingent indignant at the amount of emotion that was evoked by the Newtown tragedy.  How could one be so upset about these 26 (27?) lives being lost when lives are lost every day in Syria, the Congo, even the South Side of Chicago?  Why were these lives so much more worthy of people’s angst and attention than those lives?

Since the situation is so close to me, I figured that it was just me who found those arguments ridiculous.  Of course all senseless violence and loss of life is terrible.  These lives are indeed no more or less valuable than the other lives that may be lost in a similar way.  That doesn’t make it any less senseless or terrible.  It’s a false argument to me.  Just because other terrible things happen doesn’t make this terrible thing less terrible.  I brushed it off.

Then in the days that followed, new arguments came.  These were more judgmental, more spiteful:  that this type of thing would have never happened in a more conservative state, where folks routinely walk around with concealed weapons.  That frankly, we’re reaping what we’ve sown here with our more liberal leaning society up here in Connecticut.  There were even some crazy extrapolations of that, stating that this was simply God’s judgement call on a state that is full of wealthy folks, approves of gay marriage and continually sends more progressive type representatives to Washington.

Shocked at the callousness of such statements, the disregard of the real human pain and suffering that I was witnessing all around me, I fumed.  I saw these postings on Facebook, heard them whispered on news outlets in the comments sections, but couldn’t muster myself to respond to them.  These were surely intended to inflame, these types of statements.  Better to ignore and not draw attention to these types of outlandish comments; to acknowledge them would give them validity, I thought.

Instead, I tried to counteract the dark side (is there a light one?) of this tragedy by doing good works myself:  working as a volunteer to help at the school where the Sandy Hook children would later attend, and the warehouse where they myriad of donations were being sent; spreading word of the various things locals could do to help; donating money to the groups set up to handle such things.  I prayed, a lot, to my God, asking Him to help these angry people find peace in their hearts.  I tried to be kinder, gentler to my children, family and those around me.

But still, the darkness seems to be continuing to spread.

A friend clued me in via an email that there seems to be a small but growing contingent of people in our country who are questioning whether the tragedy at Sandy Hook even happened.  They are calling it a “Sandy Hoax”.  Their arguments ranged from the inaccuracies of initial news reports to the lack of tears shed by victims’ families to the dearth of updated information regarding the shootings to the lack of visual images publicly available of the bodies of victims.  The reason for the “hoax” as stated by those who are perpetuating this fallacy is that the whole scenario was elaborately planned and executed, with the help of a left leaning media, to force a conversation and action on gun control in our country.

I am astounded and absolutely disgusted by such arguments and the people who would make them.

In my way of thinking, you’d have to be one cold hearted bastard (I was going to type in “human being” but couldn’t bring myself to use the phrase here) to even imagine such a scenario.  Let me tell you, I am sure these 26 (27?) families that were directly impacted by the loss of life from this tragedy would love nothing better than to wake up today and find this all a dream, a story, a made up reality television show.

Let me be clear, because I live here.   I have spoken with people who saw the bodies at the funerals.  Because I’ve spoken with the grandfather of one of the victims.  Because I got caught in the traffic at one of the wakes.  Because my own children were put on lockdown for hours that day and came home shaken and scared.  Because there are still, to this day, policemen patrolling the schools in my town of Monroe, CT. Because while I didn’t know any of the victims personally, I know so many people who do, too many to even count.  And believe me, those children aren’t hiding somewhere and their parents aren’t helping perpetuate some vast conspiracy game.  Those kids and teacher sare dead.  They’re gone.  The loss is real and raw and  palpable. Just because they’re not showing that grief on camera doesn’t mean it isn’t.

The events of December 14th were, and continue to be  horrific, tragic and unspeakable.  What happened that day is still trying to be unraveled so that those affected can find some way to move forward.

What happened at Sandy Hook isn’t about gun control, or mental health, or some national agenda, or inner city vs. bucolic suburb.  It is about these victims who lost their lives in a senseless act that can’t possibly be explained or understood.   It is about those who loved them.  It is about the many, many who are trying to help everyone affected by these terrible events put some of the pieces back together in a puzzle that will always be missing 26 (27?) of its pieces.  It isn’t about you, or liberals and conservatives, red states versus blue ones, or God’s punishment.  It isn’t about who deserves media attention and who doesn’t, it isn’t about fighting over who gets to sit where at the table of healing, and it certainly isn’t about politics.

So stop.  I say to all of you perpetuating the type of hate that started all of this in the first place, just stop.  Stop claiming it didn’t happen, because it did.  Stop rationalizing your own agendas and trying to fit them into the puzzle of Sandy Hook.  Take a step back, pull yourself away from your anger and your vitriol.  Your time and energy would far better spent trying to be a part of a solution that helps prevent future such tragedies rather than contributing to them with anger and fear.

**Regarding my use of the numbers of victims.  Many talk of the 26 victims of violence that day at Sandy Hook.  I am not sure why the mother of the gunman is not always counted in the victim tally, and perhaps there is a reason that I am unaware of.  Hence my use of 26? 27? in questioning the true number of innocents who perished that day.

 

 

Keep On Living

“Did you hug him today?” the elderly gentleman asked me as we walked down the aisle to exit the church this morning.

“Of course,” I replied, knowingly.   It’s been fifteen days since the shooting at Sandy Hook, and here in nearby Monroe, we all still feel it.  The funeral wakes, several of them, were held in the funeral home here in our town.  The families are our neighbors, our friends.   If you didn’t know one of those families personally, you know someone who does.  I volunteered before Christmas in the school where the Sandy Hook kids will come back to later this week.  I helped set up the library.  It was my job to remove all of the shelves and lower them down to elementary student height; the building had been a middle school in our town.  Here the pain is still real and raw.  The holiday we just celebrated bittersweet, the carols sung between tears.  I knew what he meant.

“I lost one,” the man went on.  “In Newtown.  My family, we lost one.  My grandson.”

I stood, stunned.  This poor man had come out to church this morning, two weeks later, in the midst of his grief.  He was alone as he addressed us; no wife, no daughter, or son.  It came to me, as I searched for the words to console him, that my son must look like him.  Like the one he lost.

“I am so, so, sorry,” I said in response.  I had no idea what else to say.

When I was working at the school before Christmas, there were families that came in while I worked, feverishly at my task, trying not to think about what the people who worked alongside me had been through.  Parents came in with the siblings that survived, hoping to ease their fears about going back to school.  Thousands of brand new plush animals lined the too tall bookshelves; we offered one to each child who passed through.  They weren’t crying.  They weren’t grief stricken.  They were trying to put one foot ahead of the other, for their other kids, for themselves.  More than one of them thanked me for volunteering in the school that day.  I could barely look at them.

How could they thank me?  How could they think of anything but how terrible this tragedy was, the child whose photo had already been sent out in their Christmas newsletters and cards but wouldn’t be there to open their gifts?   I cried through Mass at church on Christmas, thinking of those kids.  I bawled looking at the Snowflakes for Sandy Hook flyer tacked carelessly on the wall of a restaurant we ate in, a thousand miles away.  The pain I feel is insurmountable and terrifying.  It is nothing compared to theirs.

“Thank you,” the man answered.  “It’s just so terrible.”

He didn’t cry, this man who clearly needed to talk about the little boy who must have looked like my own.   He didn’t even look sad.  Just matter of fact, stating the obvious.  The devastatingly obvious.  I suppose fifteen days afterwards, after all of the news and the cameras and the shock and the everything, that would be all you could do.  Reach out to others who were lucky enough to have what you lost.  Remind them that every day is a gift, every moment with your child isn’t guaranteed.

We lost the man in the crowd as a few people came to give him a hug on his way out.  But if you’re familiar with church, you know the long queue out to the open gathering space is crowded and takes a bit to navigate.  We found ourselves standing at the door with the man again, and I paused, wondering what to do next.  It wasn’t required, of course, but he’d shared his most personal loss with us.  I couldn’t just silently walk away.

“I hope you have a good day today,” I mustered, kicking myself.  I should have said that I would be praying for him, or his family.  The mundaneness of my closure to our encounter frustrated me.

“Happy New Year,” he offered in response.  “This year has to be better than last.”

And it occurred to me, as I stood there, how in awe I was of this stranger.   He was still hoping for happiness even in the completeness of his grief.  He’d come out to church, alone, on a snowy Sunday, looking to be part of the community.  He had lost a grandchild in the most unspeakable way, but he was forcing himself to continue on.  To look for hope despite it’s absolute absence fifteen days ago.  To find, in my little boy, a glimmer of something that made him smile.  To reach out to us and let us know that.

I still haven’t found my way through all of my many emotions about what happened in Newtown.  But I know, after this morning, that the important thing is to keep on living.  Despite tragedy, death, loss, suffering, pain.  Because if this man can do it, then certainly I can.

Keep on living.

Newtown

I had just come home from a run and was feeling pretty proud of myself.  I’d run 6.25 miles this morning, in 30 degree weather, and walked another half mile to warm up and cool down.  It was farther than I’d ever run before, in preparation for a 10K race I signed up for in New York City.

I’d planned to spend most of today working on a website, an upgrade to a current client’s site that they wanted done by Christmas.  So I quickly hopped in the shower and got cleaned up before sitting down at my computer to get to work.

My homescreen is NBC News.  On the screen was a red breaking news bar.  They use red for the really big stuff, so I glanced up at it.  “Shooting at elementary school in Newtown, Conn.”

Newtown is the town next door to me.

I frantically clicked on the words, but they weren’t a link yet.  The story was too new.  I ran for the TV remote and turned on the television.

It was true.  It was sickeningly, horrifyingly true.

I called my girlfriend to see if she knew anything.  I couldn’t even get the words out.  I called my husband, out of town for work in Florida.  He already knew via Twitter.  He seemed calm.  Why was he so calm?  This was ten miles away.  This was an elementary school.  This was too close, too awful.

I turned to Facebook for more information.  Friends started posting that our own school district was contemplating a lockdown status.  With the news reports hinting at more than one shooter, I wasn’t surprised when the call came through:  schools on lockdown.

At first, it seemed like a terrible tragedy had been somewhat averted.  For several hours the only fatality reported was the gunman, and the local hospital reported only three hospitalizations.  I tried to work on my site with the TV on in the background.

But then my girlfriend called back.  “27 confirmed dead,” she croaked into the phone, her voice thick.

“No.  That cannot be true,” I answered.  But then I started changing the channel.  Sure enough, some stations were indeed reporting that.  We cried together for a minute, until my cell phone started ringing.

When the out of town calls started coming in, that’s when I realized that this was not a tragedy averted.  This was real.  Those statistics were real.  My seventh grade daughter called home and asked me to come get her; the schools were allowing parents to pick up their kids (but you couldn’t go inside the locked down school).  I ran out of the house and made my way to her.

There were six other parents waiting there when I got there.  My girl reported to me that dozens of kids had already been picked up.  That the school had shut down the wi-fi to try and protect the kids from the worst of it.  The TVs normally running during lunchtime in the cafeteria were switched off.

But it wasn’t until I returned home with my girl that I learned the worst of it.  I wouldn’t turn the TV on to protect her and her brother from the scary images being played wall to wall.  I opened my computer and looked to the Newtown Patch, a site I follow because it is the town next door, a town so similar to our own.

It was then I learned that the children were killed.

Children.  Babies.  Kindergarteners.  Children younger than all of mine.

I cannot process this tragedy.  I cannot find words to express how horrific this all is.  I cannot even imagine what those parents are going through, what this day that started out so ordinary, so typical could have been like.  Just a few miles away from me.  In a school just like my kids’.  I am stunned, saddened, heartbroken, lost.

God bless all of those sweet angels.  Take care of the too many families going through hell this cold December night.

 

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