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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Six Months Later

It’s six months since Sandy Hook.

Here in Monroe, CT, where the survivors now go to school (and will be going until a new school is built for them), today is a somber day where we all are reliving that awful Friday in our heads, thinking of all of our many personal connections to those who lost so much that day, and reflecting on how much (and how little) the world has changed.

In other parts of the country, Sandy Hook and its awful terror seems to have long since been forgotten.   Or worse, thought of negatively, as perhaps the “Connecticut Effect”, where a real world tragedy brought to light some of the terrible and real cracks in our society’s foundation.  For those who do not want our society to change, Sandy Hook is perhaps a term used negatively.

But not here.  Here it’s a phrase woven with love and sadness and protective fierceness.  I sat in on a discussion last week of how our own schools will be doing construction over the summer to make them safer.  All of the exterior doors will be replaced.  All of the classroom doors will now have two way locks, so they can be locked in the inside as well as the outside.  When I was a teacher, twenty years ago, this never occurred to us (and I taught in the inner city!).  They are reconstructing the entry ways of each school to have “sallyports” or vestibules rather than open access to the building.  In one school, this means moving the school office to a different location, so the staff can have “visual command” of the entry way.  Glass will enclose these sallyports way from the main hallways.  The glass will not shatter with bullets, we were told.  The glass will stay in place, even when it breaks.

All of this will “slow down” an intruder, our superintendent said, not stop them.  Which is why we have had, and will continue to have, police officers stationed at each school as well.

What a horrible new reality we are living in here.  The Connecticut Effect is definitely present here next door to Newtown.   It is inescapable.  It is our every day these days.

Despite all of the awful, there is also wonder and awe at how kindness and love have become more recognized and more present in our world.  Our race two weekends ago brought out the best of our giving and helping community.  Our town is offering the school where Sandy Hook kids attend rent free to Newtown.   Everywhere you turn there are little green signs in storefront windows proclaiming “Love Wins” or “Choose Love” or “Sandy Hook Loves Monroe”.  Many businesses here sell little bracelets, ribbons or shirts to help raise money for the victims and their families.

So here we are, six months out.  Tonight we will leave our porch light on, a beacon of light in the darkness that has been left here for so many.  And perhaps, maybe a promise that the world will not forget what happened just nine miles up the road.  Maybe, just maybe we can still come together and make the world a better place.

Because in the end, I really am hoping that love does win.  It just has to.

What Mattered Before

The MRI.  Remember that?  Yeah, I’d forgotten too, even though it was so horrible at the time.  Funny how the world puts things in perspective for you sometimes.

My son had reported to me that he wasn’t “seeing out of both eyes” about a month and a half ago.  I took him into the eye doctor, thinking it was about time for him to join in the family tradition of wearing glasses.  Except the eye doctor didn’t find appreciable differences between his two eyes in terms of vision, and worried maybe it could be a sign of a larger problem.  With my son being on the autism spectrum, there was truly no way of knowing if this was a recent occurrence or if this had been happening for years and he just hadn’t been able to express it clearly to us.

Yeah.  So I spent the interim time between the eye doctor visit and the scheduled MRI scan freaking the $#@# out

The scan was done on December 12.  Because my son is on the spectrum, the scan was done in the hospital, under anesthesia.  Hospitals aren’t exactly warm fuzzy places.  And despite every one doing everything they could to be super incredibly nice to my son (even putting a hospital bracelet on his stuffed bear, who was allowed to stay with him the whole time), it was a really unpleasant experience.

My little guy held it together pretty well until we made it into the room where the MRI machine was.  He was still awake then, and they had a mask for him to breathe into to put him asleep.  They were going to wait to put the IV in until he was asleep (smart move).  But the mask and the huge machine and the four people it took to man it all not surprisingly made him very nervous.  I held his hand until he got drowsy enough to let it slip out of my hand, and then they led me to the waiting room.

The scan took an hour.  They scanned his head and neck.   Once they were done, I followed his gurney with him still asleep to the same day surgery recovery area.  Thankfully it was mostly empty and quiet, because when my little guy woke up, he was scared out of his mind.  He cried, he thrashed, he really freaked out when he saw the IV in his arm that wasn’t there when he went to sleep.  He felt nauseous, he was disoriented, and he just couldn’t hold it together.

It felt so, so very hard at the time.  I remember thinking how terrible it was, how awful it was, what a terrible day it was.  How I couldn’t wait to get home and let him snuggle on the sofa while I poured myself a glass (or three) of wine.  I worried what the scans would show us, how awful the news could potentially be, and how I should enjoy these blissful few days of not knowing.  Because life could be about to change.

Two days later, of course, the world did change.  I didn’t have the news yet about the MRI.  But obviously, I didn’t mind.  I knew that whatever the news was going to be for us, it wasn’t going to be as bad as what had happened to those families in Newtown.  Even if it was the worst news, I would have time to prepare my child and my family and myself for the worst, a gift those families didn’t have.

Finally, a few days later, I got the word that the results of the scans were normal. It was a relief, a pin prick of good news in the numbness of that week following Newtown, a week of funerals and sadness and fear.  My little boy will be fine.  My little boy doesn’t have the worst thing that can happen happening to him, and neither do we.  We were lucky.  Again.

.

A Strange Day

Yesterday was a strange, strange day here in my little corner of the world.  It has been very raw here since the events of 12.14.12.  I’ve written about some of it.  But we knew yesterday was going to be the day that instead of being neighbors to the events everyone was looking at on the news, we were going to be the event on the news.

The Sandy Hook school children were starting school here yesterday.

I knew the building of course, from having lived here.  My children never attended school at Chalk Hill, because it closed before my kids were of age to go there.  But they attended summer programs there, and I’ve been involved with this or that project there from time to time with my volunteering within the school system.  It was amazing to see the tired old structure, which had been the topic of many harsh discussions in  our town, become a jewel transformed from the rough state it had been in.  Watching the moving trucks bring in the students’ belongings and furniture, seeing the dozens of people working to clean and refurbish the building has been moving, exciting, amazing.  And just a few days before the school was set to open its arms for these kids, these survivors, a new sign was put in front of the school, proclaiming it theirs.  Giving them ownership.  A place to belong.  A new place.

The news trucks started showing up the night before.  They were supposed to be located at the park at the end of my street, rather than anywhere near the school.  And there they were, as I drove my daughter to piano lessons on Wednesday evening.  Six or seven satellite trucks.  By the morning, there were at least twenty.  My daughter snapped a photo of the trucks from the bus on the way to school.  She doesn’t attend the middle school that sits next door to the new Sandy Hook; she attends the STEM academy a few miles away, at our high school.  But the two schools share buses, and so she drives onto the campus every day after school.  It’s given her an insight to this tragedy and our response to it that few have.  She’s seen it all, first hand.

After I packed the kids on the bus, and watched the media descend, I went over to the warehouse in Newtown where the donations are being kept.  An email had arrived two days before Christmas with instructions on how to sign up to volunteer, and I signed up for as many slots as I could.  I drove past the new Sandy Hook on my way; there were police on every side street leading up to the school and blocking the entrance.  There were hand made signs, balloons and ribbons on the road that the buses would drive in on.  It was hopeful, welcoming.

Then I crossed into Newtown.

There were more reminders here, but they were sad, somber memorials.  26 wooden angels on sticks on the side of the road.  A heartshaped sign with one simple word:  Peace.  A gas station with “God Bless” below their pricing.  A big green and white ribbon with 26 stars around it.

With that in my head, I pulled into the warehouse.

The warehouse was huge, and bustling.  There were dozens of people working.  Donations from all over the world lined tables, piled on the floors.  There were school supplies, toys, blankets, food.  But most of all, stuffed animals.

Thousands and thousands and thousands of them.  Heartbreaking, some with notes attached.   From Iowa, Georgia, Arizona, Florida.  All over.  My job for the entire shift was to sort through them.  Teddy bears separated out from generic stuffed animals (dogs, cats, penguins, even snakes!, you name it).  Small, medium, large.  Sorted and counted and boxed, over and over and over.  A whole room of us doing this.  There had to have been ten thousand of them sorted, boxed and loaded onto pallets while I was there yesterday.

The people working were a mix of locals like me, disaster relief employees, senior citizens and a church group from Florida who had driven up with a trailer full of donations and then stayed to volunteer.  All of us focused on the task in front of us.  Very few of us spoke about the unspeakable thing that brought us all there to do the work we were doing.  We were young and old, all walks of life, united in tragedy.

I drove away from my shift with tears in my eyes and lead in my chest.  On the way home, more news trucks down the street from me.  I actually drove into the park to get a closer look, I couldn’t believe it.  My tiny little town, our small corner of the world.  Forever changed, forever different, forever on the map of grief of our country.

It was a strange, strange day.  I can’t imagine what it was like for those families.  As much as I am having a hard time processing this grief, I know it is a gift that any of those families wish they had.  My ephemeral sadness as opposed to their gut wrenching loss.

So I’ll keep doing what I can, volunteering at the warehouse, taking any chance we have to help the families here locally, working with our PTOs to support theirs.  And I’ll keep on living, because that’s what we have to do.  Even if sometimes it is with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes.

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.

Coming Here

They’re coming here.

The students.  The survivors.  Those who the gunman wasn’t able to kill.  They’re coming to a school in my town in a few days.

We closed a school, a few years back, in a contentious budget cutting year to save money.  We reconfigured our entire school system and changed the culture of our district.  It was a difficult, divisive time in our town.  Every time I have driven past that closed school to the current middle school, I have felt a twinge of anger and sadness.  It sits empty, the sign in front claiming it schools students in grades 5 and 6, but it doesn’t.  On the side of the building, boards fill in a space where windows should be; when the window broke, no one thought it was worth spending money to fix.  Because no one uses the building anyway.

But now, in the wake of the horrible tragedy on Friday, our empty school is no longer a burden, a symbol, an albatross.

It is a gift.

It is a gift we can give those families that lost everything last week, so that they don’t have to return to the place where so much evil occurred.  They don’t have to go back at all this school year, if they don’t want to.  They will have the luxury of time to figure out what to do next.  Because they can come here.  They can come to our town, to our school, and hopefully feel some shred of safety and comfort in returning to some sort of routine.

I’m grateful that there is something tangible we can offer these families.

I don’t know any of those who died on Friday personally.  But I know so many who do.  I knew three of the names before they were released because they were friends of my friends.  One little boy went to preschool with a friend’s daughter.  Another took Tae Kwon Do with several friends’ kids.  A third used to work with one of the parents.  And the father of the gunman works for the same company as my husband, although in a different location.

My own daughter is fearful.  They put her school in a lockdown so strict that they all huddled in a corner away from the windows and the doors.  When the kids snickered and talked the teacher told them tersely that this was “not a drill”.  For a period of time, she thought the incident was at her school.  That the bad guys were coming down her hallways.  And now she knows that only a few miles separated her from that reality being hers instead of those poor childrens’.   She has friends that don’t want to return to school tomorrow.  There will be police, there will be counselors, there will be little learning and much talking about unspeakable things.

I do not know what kind of world it is that we live in.  Today, from my small town in Connecticut, it seems a very, very dark place.

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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