Thursday, December 5, 2013

51 Weeks Later

Fall is probably my favorite season, thanks in large part to all the fun, outdoorsy, family-friendly things to do. Likely for these reasons, it's been on my mind almost constantly over these last couple of months, though it's not like I ever forgot. But whether watching my small monsters carve pumpkins while wielding sharp objects and making a giant pumpkin-guts mess; or watching the posses of sugar-fueled trick-or-treaters roaming the neighborhood, my thoughts keep returning to the victims, and to the parents of the victims, of the Newtown, CT, school shooting last December.

As Thanksgiving came and went, those families were on my mind all the more as my constant thought throughout the month was how grateful I am to have a family that is happy and healthy and safe, and that I am grateful that my problems are small, in the grand scheme of things. Which is probably exactly how those families felt just last year at Thanksgiving, mere weeks before the unimaginable happened and the courses of their lives were forever changed.

It has been almost a year since that day, and the families have endured almost all the firsts…the first Christmas without their children, first Valentine’s Day, spring, summer, fall, birthdays, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and, soon, the first anniversary of the deaths of their precious children. The media focus, the community focus, the world focus that will be on them in the days leading up to December 14…I don’t know how they will manage it.  The grief they live with daily is unimaginable; to do so publicly in a country that watched them suffer and then couldn’t even pass any of the gun legislation they lobbied so passionately for is even more unfathomable.

When I think of the shooting, there’s one face in particular that comes to mind. His name was Dylan and his vivid, mischievous blue eyes were so beautiful. And, just as clearly, I see the haunted, devastated eyes of his mother. Her face stayed with me as the picture of heartbreak. A little guiltily, I am always so thankful that I don’t know that kind of suffering, and I hope I never do. But I am also always plagued with fear that horrible things happen to ordinary families. Families like ours. A year ago, so many families in Newtown, CT, were just normal people, living normal lives, when the most abnormal thing happened to them…randomly, without warning. The reminder that so much in life is completely out of our control is such a devastating, terrifying reality.

I was driving to Liam’s pre-school the other day to pick him up. I saw a man walking on the sidewalk with what I initially thought was a gun. On second look, it was a big L-shaped metal tool. But I see possible harm everywhere now, where is doesn’t really exist.  The horrors of that day in Newtown struck a fear in me that refuses to leave…the paranoia that a violent event can be waiting for me or my family anywhere, even in the least likely of places. When I walk into the kids’ schools, my first thought is “How unsafe this is.” There’s only one door that shields my precious children from the craziness in the world. I have the same thought at the gymnastics studio, at the community pool, at WalMart…that there’s no guaranteed way to stop a bad guy, should one of them arrive with a well-devised plan and lots of ammunition.

After a tragedy, there’s often a search for the lesson to be learned, for the ‘good’ to come from the bad. If there’s a ‘good’ anywhere in this, maybe it’s the threat of loss that helps me focus on the good in life and appreciate it all…especially those days, of which there are plenty, when I want to pull out all my hair and surrender myself to a facility with padded cells. I often remind myself that those parents would give absolutely anything to see their kid have a tantrum or make a giant mess or shove their sibling. The thought is sobering.

Sometimes I look at my children and their goofy little faces just choke me up. The delicacy of their features are almost doll-like, the long eyelashes like paint on porcelain. The sound of their voices and giggles are so precious; the intricacies of their personalities make each of them so uniquely special. I think of their potential, imagine their future. I can’t imagine them not having a future. This is the danger of loving. While the potential for joy is immense, so is the potential for suffering.

As the Newtown families approach the last of these “milestone” firsts, my thoughts are with them, as they have been all along. Their losses remind me that a day that ends with the well-being of my family is a good day. Their losses remind me to be thankful for all that is good…not just at this time of year, but every single day.