I was getting some Christmas preparations done when I heard. I think Sam was home sick with a cough that day. I checked email for work and then saw the headline on CNN. School shooting... Elementary school... an entire class of 6 year olds dead... teachers dead... Principal dead... School Psychologist, dead.
I write about this now, because how does one write about it then? How do you put into words a primal fear, a vortex of rage, and pitiful "I don't understand"?? I'm not sure I have the words now, either. I want to honor the victims by remembering this. I want to grieve with fellow parents, to wail with them, to hold their hands. Facebook became our meeting place. Those of us with current first graders needed a place to scream, to mourn, to be angry, to offer sympathy, to just "be." Those of us with any children needed to be somewhere. Those of us with no children of "our own" but with students or nieces or nephews or cousins needed to be somewhere. We all needed to seek out light, because it was almost completely extinguished on that day, and we must not ever, ever let the light completely go out. Only by that last little bit of flame do we gently blow our communal breath to expand the oxygen source... to grow the light bigger, bigger, bigger. The only way we can see forward is by light.
My 8 year old daughter and I read together at bedtime. We have gone through many classics, and we had just finished A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. If you haven't read this since childhood, read it again, as an adult. It is stunning. For Leah and me, the timing of our reading was perfect. The entire story is based on Good vs. Evil. Some planets in the Universe, L'Engle writes, are "dark." The Shadow (Evil) has enveloped these planets- and other planets, the good ones, are fighting against this evil... trying to prevent the evil from overcoming their own planet, as well as rescuing those lost on dark planets. The main characters, children from Earth, are summoned by greater Powers (representing "God"? "Goodness"? "Angels"?) to rescue their father, who is imprisoned on a dark planet. In their search, they are taught that Earth is not completely dark, but it is "Shadowed"... and that they must fight to keep the light alive... to keep the Dark from enveloping the Goodness.
"I hate it!" Charles Wallace cried passionately. "I hate the Dark Thing!" ...
"But what is it?" Calvin demanded. "We know it's evil, but what is it?"
"Yyyou Haaave Sssaid iitt!" Mrs. Which's voice rang out. "Itt is Evvill. Itt is the Powwers of Darrkness!"
"But what is going to happen?" Meg's voice trembled. "Oh Please, Mrs. Which, tell us what is going to happen!"
"We willl conntinue to Fiight!"
Something in Mrs. Which's voice made all three of the children stand straighter, throwing back their shoulders with determination, looking at the glimmer that was Mrs. Which with pride and confidence.
"And we are not alone, you know, children." Came Mrs. Whatsit, the comforter. "All through the universe it's being fought, all through the cosmos, and my, but it's a grand and exciting battle. I know it's hard for you to understand about size, how there's very little difference in the size of the tiniest microbe and the greatest galaxy. You think about that, and maybe it won't seem so strange to you that some of our very best fighters have come from your own planet, and it's a little planet, dears, out on the edge of a little galaxy. You can be very proud that it's done so well."
"Who have our fighters been?" Calvin asked.
"Oh, you must know them dear," Mrs. Whatsit said.
Mrs. Who's spectacles shown out at them triumphantly... "and the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended not."
"Jesus!" Charles Wallace said. "Why of course, Jesus!"
"Of Course!" Mrs. Whatsit said. "Go on, Charles, love. There were others. All your great artists. They've been lights for us to see by."
"Leonardo da Vinci?" Calvin suggested tentatively. "And Michelangelo?" "And Shakespeare," Charles Wallace called out, "and Bach! And Pasteur and Madame Curie and Einstein!"
Now Calvin's voice rang out with confidence. "And Schweitzer and Gandhi and Buddha and Beethoven and Rembrandt and St. Francis!"
The light created by the souls listed above, and the way L'Engle folded them into her story, has been the perfect way to talk to my children about this tragedy, if there is any perfect way to talk about such horror. Some parents have witheld news of the tragedy from their kids, which, of course, I completely understand. Knowing my extended family though, and knowing my kids' classmates, I realized quickly that I needed to talk to them about this first, before it was talked about elsewhere, so that they would know. I am not one to try and come up with answers for myself or for my kids, especially when there is no answer to be had. Why did this happen? Can we point to one thing? Can we ever know? Of course not. And for me, to try and simplify this to anything about one religion or lack of religion is like trying to sing a complex song with only one note. It cannot be done. There are too many forces at work here.
My kids know, and we've all been brutally reminded, that we live on a "shadowed planet." Evil is here. There is no way to understand it. There is no way to try and rationalize it. No reason given for the murder of 20 innocent school children will ever be enough to soothe the pain of their families. Evil is here. Evil is within each of us. This kind of evil shadows us, shadows our communities, shadows love.
But. We are only "partially shadowed." The light has not yet been completely extinguished. Goodness is also in us. It comes to us in great leaders, Saviors, like Jesus, and all who embody Truth and Light, or who at least are willing to reflect it and use it for the good of humanity, to fight against Dark forces. Mother Theresa. William Wilberforce. Bono. Anyone who chooses to use their life for GOOD resists the complete overtaking of our hearts and our planet. This is what my children know. They have the power to choose Good. I have the power to choose Good. We all have the power to help each other choose Good, or to help guide our troubled friends back to the Light. A simple smile towards a sad or angry stranger is a step towards pushing the Shadow back.
My heart and prayers are with the Newtown community as they lean down towards that one flame still shining in the darkness. They have just enough strength, through the support and love of the world, to grow it, to push back the edges of darkness that came so close to extinguishing the light. We owe it to the the families of the lost to hold up extra lanterns as they find their way through this dim tunnel. We will not let the shadow take over. We will continue to fight. Our weapons will be generosity, kindess, love... and forgiveness.
I am the moon, with no light of my own... still You have made me to shine... -Sara Groves