Remembering the children of Newtown

20141214_130929This column first ran in the Spokesman Review, December 20, 2012

By the time you read this it will be almost a week since the horrific shootings in Newtown, Conn. Columnists, pundits and politicians will have opined, analyzed and commented. Graves will have been dug. Memorial services held.

The initial shock and horror has faded, muted by holiday happenings. After all, life goes on and sorrow dims.

As the reports unfolded Friday I sat stunned at my desk – each detail more heartbreaking than the last. Finally, I got up, put on my coat and headed out. I had Christmas shopping to do.

I stopped to watch the children laughing and shrieking in the play area at NorthTown Mall. Usually, I bypass the raucous place as quickly as possible, feeling profound gratitude that I no longer have to pause in my errands to let wiggly toddlers blow off steam. But on Friday the sight of their exuberant energy gladdened me.

Then I caught sight of a glittering Christmas tree with gaily wrapped packages beneath it. Suddenly, all I could think of were the festive packages lying forever unopened under Christmas trees in Connecticut. I quickly left the mall and went home, anxious to be there to greet my kids when they returned from school.

It was a rare day because I saw all four of my sons. My oldest stopped by to do laundry, and my second-born dropped off a vehicle he’d borrowed. I drank in the sight of them, bearded stubble and all, remembering their smooth baby faces that I once covered with kisses.

My heart broke yet again, thinking of eight mothers whose sons didn’t live to hear them nag, “Are you ever going to shave?”

Somehow we all got through the day didn’t we? We made it through the unending media reports. We hugged our children tighter. We cried communal tears. We prayed. We lit candles. We raged. We wondered. For a brief moment our nation was united. Sorrow can have that effect.

But the days wore on. The details offered no rhyme, no reason. The pro- and anti-gun folks hurled invectives and recriminations at each other. Politicians seized platforms, and many of us just wished the nightmare would go away.

And it will. Unless you lost a loved one in Newtown, Conn., the memory of this event will blend into a collage of other senseless tragedies. However, one name will be etched in our collective memory: Adam Lanza.

This is what haunts me the most. Why do we remember the killers when the victims and their families deserve to be forever enshrined in our consciousness?

Do you remember the names of anyone who died at Columbine, aside from the shooters? Have the faces of those who perished in Oklahoma City vanished from your memory while the face of Timothy McVeigh burns brightly?

So, Friday I went back out. I bought a 2012-dated ornament, wrapped it and placed it under our tree. On Saturday, when the names of the victims were released, I covered the small package with glittery name tags. The tags read: For Benjamin, Emilie, Grace, Noah and so on – 20 names in all.

On Christmas morning, this gift will remain under our tree. It isn’t meant to be opened. It’s a memorial of sorts. I will pack it away with the Christmas decorations and place it under the tree next year, and the year after that.

I don’t want to forget what happened on Dec. 14, 2012.

The children who died deserve to be remembered. It’s the only gift I have to offer them.

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