Friday, December 21, 2012

7 (not-so-quick) Takes Near Newtown

--- 1 --
I’ve been observing a kind of “radio silence” regarding this blog, due to last Friday's tragedy in Newtown.  What can be said in the wake of that?  Newtown is a brief car ride up Route 34 from where we live.  While this did not “hit me where I live,” this was close to home.  We had a relative teaching in the building; she and the students with her are safe.

The daughter of my former department chair was also working there; she was shot.  She survived and is recovering(how does one “recover” from witnessing the unimaginable?)

Two of my husbands’ college classmates lost their six year old girl.

There are no words.  

--- 2 ---
I would be lying if I said I was not pinned down by depression last week.  Depression saps the desire to do and replaces it with a never-ending-chain of procrastinations, of "I'll-get-to-that-eventually's." Everything from paying a bill, returning a phone call, wrestling over handwriting with your focus-deprived son, making dinner, getting the mail, showering... The mundane hurdles of daily life suddenly seem insurmountable.

What can one do when this weight settles in?  First, face it and call it out for what it is.  In this case, the root cause was obvious.  Profound sadness was "normal".  How could I possibly feel happy and in the moment?  I allowed myself the grief.

What else can one do?  Be real.  I stopped blaming myself for the myriad things I had not done yet for Christmas.  I'd had a massive cold the week before; being pregnant I'm also responsible for the well-being of another soul who currently shares this body with me.  For the good of my child, I had to take that week easier.  More sleep and less activity means less gets done in a day; there is a cumulative effect to that.  That is life, not a character defect.

One needs to talk it out: online with friends, with my husband, phone calls with my mom.  And especially with God.  Its OK to remember to ask Him for His grace for myself.  To do so is not selfish; it won't deprive the others who are in need, because there is no shortage of Grace.  His mercy is infinite, and for the asking.

Finally, after all of that was done, I had to take some action.  Start with one thing, even if small, even if the completion of it is less than perfect.   Make a little list of what you want done this day.  Then begin.  

Help others who are struggling.  A gesture as simple as helping an elderly person to reach that chocolate syrup on the highest grocery shelf shines some light into the darkness.

--- 3 ---
Returning home from Little Flowers and Blue Knights on Friday was like returning from another planet. While I'd heard about Friday's shooting from my husband, who had called from work before we'd left the house, details were sketchy.  I went about my day without knowledge of its tragic extent.

I came home to find Emre already here before us, eyes red.  He assured me his cousin was safe, but then whispered the outcome in my ear: an entire kindergarten class gone.

Meanwhile, Gianna flitted about the room, laughing, loud, on a sugar high.   

How do I explain the reaction in a mother's heart?
My outer reaction was to hug each of my children, who had no idea of the days' events, as they carried on with the business of playtime.  Emre later sat on the couch, with all three children close, our own kindergartener hugged at his side; every so often I heard a bemused Gianna, full of sillies, complain, "Dadd-y, you're squeezing me..."

Gianna's Rosebuds group had spent Friday afternoon celebrating Juan Diego and Our Lady of Guadalupe.  She returned to us sporting a tilma and mustache.  My heart brimmed both with joy and pain when I snapped this picture. 

--- 4 ---

Reflecting on our parental reactions of Friday night has reminded me of James Russel Lowell's poem, The First Snowfall.  Most of us read this in high school, but to review: the speaker gazes out of his window as the first snow of the season falls.  He seems merely focused on the transformed landscape outside of his home, but his thoughts are actually with a "mound in sweet Auburn" (a cemetery in Massachusetts), and a "little headstone" that is likewise being "gently" covered by the snow.   This reverie is interrupted by his inquisitive young daughter, Mabel.  His actions in response to her typically child-like questions serve a dual purpose: one purpose is visible.  The other is invisible, but just as real.
--- 5 ---
The First Snowfall

The snow had begun in the gloaming, 
And busily all the night 
Had been heaping field and highway 
With a silence deep and white. 

Every pine and fir and hemlock 
Wore ermine too dear for an earl, 
And the poorest twig on the elm-tree 
Was ridged inch deep with pearl. 

From sheds new-roofed with Carrara 
Came Chanticleer's muffled crow, 
The stiff rails were softened to swan's-down, 
And still fluttered down the snow. 

I stood and watched by the window 
The noiseless work of the sky, 
And the sudden flurries of snow-birds, 
Like brown leaves whirling by. 

I thought of a mound in sweet Auburn 
Where a little headstone stood; 
How the flakes were folding it gently, 
As did robins the babes in the wood. 

Up spoke our own little Mabel, 
Saying, 'Father, who makes it snow?' 
And I told of the good All-father 
Who cares for us here below. 

Again I looked at the snowfall, 
And thought of the leaden sky 
That arched o'er our first great sorrow, 
When that mound was heaped so high. 

I remembered the gradual patience 
That fell from that cloud like snow, 
Flake by flake, healing and hiding 
The scar of our deep-plunged woe. 

And again to the child I whispered, 
'The snow that husheth all, 
Darling, the merciful Father 
Alone can make it fall! ' 

Then, with eyes that saw not, I kissed her; 
And she, kissing back, could not know 
That my kiss was given to her sister, 
Folded close under deepening snow.

--- 6 ---
In all of the shock and tragedy, I have been consistently awed by the witness of people who are obviously filled by God's grace.

There are friends who stand at the foot of that cross with these mothers and fathers, regular people who unceasingly pour out their love in order to carry these families through this hellish time.

Countless numbers of firefighters attended the funeral of a little boy whose dream had been to grow up and be a fireman himself.  Their presence at that event had everything to do with honoring the wishes of a fallen little boy who had become, by his desire, one of their own.

Priests, rabbis, pastors of all denominations were side by side with first responders on the scene.  I can not fathom what they witnessed.

Communities step up to support these people, who daily offer up their lives in service to God, this week serving Him without ceasing.

The faithful offering prayers and sacrifice.  So many offering some service, some help.

Victoria Soto, who offered her life and saved her class.

I am humbled.  Their example speaks volumes.  As St. Francis observed, the gospel is best preached by living it.

Words often matter very little in the end.

--- 7 ---
This song performed by Mahalia Jackson has been on my mind this week.  It has become my new prayer:

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