I almost didn’t write this post. The act of clicking the Publish button makes me uncertain. I have no claim to the tragedy that happened a year ago in Sandy Hook, beyond being a parent… a citizen of this country… another human being. What happened in that school has so many layers, and it seems artificial to write about it given the depths of its consequences for the families who lost children and loved ones that day.
There is no doubt to me that millions of people will remember this day, and it will bring despair to hearts and tears to eyes, even among people with no personal connection to those involved. But like so many other horrible events, we’ll catalogue it among the other great massacres of our generation, like 9-11 and the tsunami in Asia, and in the company of similar events, like Columbine and Virginia Tech.
“Where were you when…?” is a question people ask once a major tragedy like this is a safe enough distance away to begin thinking of it as a marker. Maybe people are already beginning to ask this about Sandy Hook. My question this year is where are we now.
I imagine most of us are bewildered, still, that something so horrible could have happened. Some of us have those scars that form when you see what kind of pain people can inflict on each other and how inhumane our political system can be when it comes to protecting the interests of people vs. sources of funding. Many of us are disappointed that we couldn’t move the needle on an issue that — if you look at statistics — actually unites vs. divides us in one of the most polarized states our nation has ever been in.
By the time one makes it into their forties, there is that understanding that life offers no guarantees. Safety is a relative and unreliable concept, something that slips into our minds when, perhaps, we are boarding a plane. Should we really feel that way when we drop our children off at school? We do now, even if it’s fleeting and blocked from our conscious mind by some sort of mental self-preservation. If we really thought about how vulnerable we all are, we’d probably go crazy.
Certainly, there are tragedies where far more people suffer, places in the world where children die in great numbers. And something like this can’t be judged by numbers. Loss of even a single child’s life is very sad. What makes this one stand out, for me at least, is how those children were supposed to be in one of the safest environments available to them. They were learning to read or add or maybe just enjoying story time. It’s such an innocent world inside a first-grade classroom… rather, it should be.
A year later, I sit on the couch helping my son study his spelling words. Looking out the window, I become aware that I’m the parent who gets to do this. Those parents do not. I’m checking the closet taking inventory of what Christmas presents have been delivered. For those folks, there will always be an empty space where gifts would have been.
There is no yardstick for that kind of pain. It’s unknown to the rest of us. One year later, it still seems unbelievable. I can’t image how it feels for the families and friends of Sandy Hook.