It has been seven years. Noah has now lived longer in our memories than in the flesh.
Seven years since a dark soul carried a semiautomatic rifle into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and murdered everyone in his sights, including twenty first-graders and six educators.
Our grandson Noah had turned six three weeks before. We lived near Seattle at the time and I had flown cross-country just before Thanksgiving to be with him and his twin sister on their birthday. It would be the last time I would see him in person although one of my most precious memories is chatting with him on Skype a couple of nights before he and his classmates were mown down.
The red-eye flight back East on the evening of December 14 took place in an agony of disbelief. I can’t remember whether or not I managed to slumber but I do remember an enormous weight pressing down on my ribcage and a burning sensation in my chest.
When we got back home to the Northwest at the end of January, our house was exactly as we had left it mid-December: half-ready for Christmas. The stepladder was still up in the hall where hubby had been attaching red and white garlands; the tree had turned brown and brittle; ornaments had slid off the drooping branches and shattered on the floor; eleven little cardboard windows remained unopened on the advent calendar.
The holiday decorations were swiftly put away, not to be taken out for a few years. It would be an understatement to say that we were done with Christmas. We still are.
But our youngest grandkids eventually reached an age where they would notice and ask questions. We took the Christmas boxes out of storage again. And so it happens that every year when I open them, I find the stockings.
I don’t put them up anymore as I couldn’t bear taking out all of them but one.
And we no longer put up a big tree. Just a tiny symbolic one.
When I last saw Noah on Skype, he and his sisters were trimming their own tree back home. They were taking ornaments out of boxes, exclaiming over each one, running to the computer to show me, then running to the tree to hang them.
At one point, Noah found himself alone in front of the camera. I could hear his sisters chatting excitedly by the tree in the background. He sat uncharacteristically quiet, looking at me. I had zero premonition but I remember a stirring in my soul as if, in the silence, something had been said and acknowledged.
I used to love Christmas. Now it is a relief to put everything away again as soon as the holiday is over.
Gun violence isn’t a statistic. It isn’t abstract. It isn’t political.
Families hit by gun violence are force-shaped around a gigantic hole, an abyss of loss and longing. They don’t ever recover. Not really. We may still laugh, sing, revel and rejoice. But inside, we bleed.
After seven years, Noah hasn’t become an abstraction. I think about him every day of my life and I watch him grow. He was six when I last saw him. He’d be thirteen today.
Everywhere I go, I see the gleam of his pensive, luminous and mischievous eyes. There is nothing creepy about it, Noah isn’t a ghost, he is a presence. And a comforting one.
Even the grief is welcome. If it had started to assuage, then it would mean I would have started to forget. There is no chance of that.
My mom lost her first baby thirty-six hours after his birth. He had been a beautiful seven-pound little boy and just like that, he was gone. He had been born at home, as was then the custom in provincial France. The birth had been attended both by a midwife and by the local doctor. It had been uneventful and both the mom and the baby had been doing well. Nobody ever had any explanation for why he stopped breathing.
All her life my mom cried whenever she spoke of her lost little boy and in her final hour he was the only one whose name she still remembered. I know, I was there, and I am the one who uttered his name. She was a few months shy of her ninety-sixth birthday.
One doesn’t get over the death of a child. Or grandchild.
Is it worse when the child is murdered inside his classroom by a killer bent on inflicting maximum pain onto the largest possible number of families? I can’t say. I don’t believe a scale exists to measure the pain of losing a kid.
But I can tell you that had Noah died in his bed, the last seconds of his life wouldn’t have been filled with deafening noises, blood and terror. And I can also tell you that no parent or grandparent should have to live with that thought.
That is the reality of gun violence. Not an abstraction. Not a statistic. Sure there are numbers. But each and everyone of them represents a brutal ending, a gaping hole. Stunned and broken families stand around these holes in ever expanding circles of anguish and grief. The trauma never heals. It goes down the generations. A legacy of pain, anxiety and dysfunction.
Not a statistic. No.
What happened to Noah and nineteen other first graders in a peaceful little New England town ten days before Christmas seven years ago could happen to a kid you love.
To your kid. To your grandkid.
Today. Tomorrow. Anytime. Anywhere
I don’t know how to prevent it. But I know we can’t just sit tight and hold our breath. Or stick our heads in the sand.
On this seventh anniversary of the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary school and in memory of Noah, of his classmates and of his educators, I beg you to consider doing something if you do not do so already.
Joining Moms Demand Action would be good place to start.
And today would be a good time.