Last night, tired of folding laundry, I sat down on the floor of my bedroom, back against my bed, opened my laptop and looked. I looked at the pictures of those who lost their lives at Sandy Hook and I cried heavy, messy tears. I don’t know what’s right. I don’t know if it’s right to look at those children’s faces and whisper “I’m sorry” to the screen over and over and over (too many times over). But having spent all my time not crying in front of my children, I needed to mourn. So I noted a little girl’s ladybug wings and I thought about another little girl’s headband, how a parent had taken the time to adjust it just so, and then I read about the twin who lost her sibling and I cried heavier tears, messier tears until Andy came up (with more laundry to fold) and closed my computer.
“Stop,” he said. “Stop reading. Stop.”
I have never handled violence involving children well—not in books, not in film, certainly not in real life. Horrible things happen every day but this. This. This is almost too much for me to handle. And I write this as someone not directly involved. I write this not understanding how someone directly involved is supposed to handle such horror, such grief.
I’ve given money, signed several petitions and have read many articles, essays and opinions on all sides of the matter trying to form my own. I think it’s honorable to have the courage to take a tragedy and use it as a springboard to better our country and better ourselves. But I don’t claim to know how.
So while I don’t feel qualified to talk about how grieving loved ones must feel or the merits of gun control or the state of mental illness support in this nation (although I commend those who do speak up, with the hopes of bettering), I do feel qualified to talk about today.
Today I was one of the lucky ones. Today I was able to walk around with only a dull ache in my heart, like the buzz of a distant fly that follows you around the house, and surround myself with goodness.
Sophie and I dressed in our holiday finest and drove north, for a benefit concert to raise money for the Coleen Mangan Lunsford Memorial Library in Belmopan, Belize, a project close to our family’s heart.
There, in the church where my parents were married, where my sister was married, where my grandma volunteers countless hours …
where a beautiful, handmade cross dedicated to my Grandpa hangs …
and a large Christmas tree shines bright …
and greenery adorns the organ …
we listened to the voice of Richard Lewis fill the church with Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria” and Adolphe Adam’s “Oh Holy Night.”
He was joined by vocalists and musicians Alex Wunder, Catherine Lewis, Ken McFarlan and Susan Trissell, with songs like “Let it Snow” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” for a beautiful and needed release.
I read about Belize and the library project.
I bought homemade toucan cookies for my kids …
and T-shirts …
and raffle tickets for baskets filled with goodies (which Sophie managed to draw her own name for, and win).
We passed out programs.
My grandma helped give out handmade cookies and punch during intermission …
which Sophie enjoyed.
People from all over came …
to be with family …
and recognize the countless hours volunteers (largely my uncle Corey, Aunt Ann, and cousins Ben and Kelsey) have spent collecting books for children most of us will never meet and build a library for an elementary school most of us will never visit.
Sophie and I had to leave soon after the concert finished so that we could meet Andy, Owen and James, along with close to 30 of our friends (including many children) at Ferrari’s Little Italy for our annual holiday dinner. We were loud. Two tables were covered with pizzas and pastas and lasagna and salads and chocolate milk and glasses of beer and wine. There were crayons and Matchbox cars and books and swirly dresses and bottles and nursing covers and sippy cups and so much life.
I’ve long struggled with our messy, beautiful, horrific world. Although my eyes glistened while singing “Silent Night” with Sophie in church today, I struggle with religion, too. Still, I needed that moment. I needed to be surrounded by family and beauty in a place rich with history of things gone right.
When we came home from our holiday dinner, it was bedtime. Pajamas, toothbrushes, stalling, books, sips of water, lost blankets, found blankets, medicine for a fever. The sweet normalcy of bedtime.
Once my children were asleep, I got online, for the first time today. Rich-with-talent writer Eros-Alegra Clarke had posted a poem.
Try To Praise The Mutilated World
by Adam Zagajewski
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
(Translation: Renata Gorczynski )
I will try.
“I hope that real love and truth are stronger in the end than any evil or misfortune in the world.” —Charles Dickens