It's the one-year anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.
I know you are busy. I know you have a million things to do to prepare for the holidays. But can you please pause today and remember that event that is too hard to remember, making a promise with me? Do it for the 26 lives that left the world far too soon last December. Their families need us today.
Dec. 14, 2012: It was Friday after lunch when I glanced at my phone. Breaking news. Elementary school shooting ... Children shot ... Newtown, Conn. Gasping a "No, no, no," I bolted to the kitchen to turn on the news. I scooted past my three little ones (then ages 4, 4, and 2) in the family room as they lay against their cozy, safe beanbags, watching cartoons... cocooned by scenes of color and laughter. Stepping over their little feet, I did not want them to move. "Please stay here," I thought, "I am about to see something terrible, but you three please stay here."
I snuck around the corner to my little TV and turned the volume low to see what had just ripped a hole in Newtown, Conn. My heart pounded as tears ran quickly down my cheeks watching the worst scenario unfold right in front of my eyes. Right in front of the world's eyes.
No, no, no, not the children... not the children! I wanted to scream and run away from the TV, chasing this horror down my street and out of the world. But I couldn't. None of us could. As the news continued to fill my kitchen with inconceivable details, I fell to the floor and wept as silently as I could. I felt that maternal, unfathomable fear pouring out of my soul for these parents who were about to go through the unthinkable.
I was one of the lucky ones. My children were alive and breathing and safe inside of my house. But what about these precious school children and their teachers? I wanted to save them. I wanted to save their families from the truth. I wanted them to be the lucky ones.
Being old enough to know what muffled crying was, all three of my miracles crept around the corner to see if Mommy was okay. Turning off the television, I knelt down, taking in their warmth, their breath and their lives. We had had our share of medical miracles, and I knew what warmth meant: LIFE. I wrapped my arms around their lives like never before.
Wiping my soaked face, I kissed each of them, feeling a rush of overwhelming gratitude inside of my breaking heart. "I love you so much. You are my precious ones. Mommy is upset about something very, very sad that happened today. But Mommy is going to be okay." Those three little sets of arms hugged me one after the other... tightly... powerful beyond their knowledge... before scurrying back to the living room. Arms of angels.
I knew that as time passed, each of those Newtown parents would be telling us to do just that: hug our children, hug our warm and laughing children. Tell them we love them... every chance... every day. And so I did. Over and over again.
In the following days, when the names and photos of the victims were released, the reality of what had happened began to sink further into all of us. I could not hold back the flood of a mother's emotion. We all felt it. I sensed every cell in my body collapsing with the individual pictures of each precious face... who looked like my own... like all of our own... with their pure smiles and shining futures glowing on the screen. We grieved every pony tail, baseball bat and sibling hug that we saw as their stories were told.
But a wonderful thing happened amidst all of our grief: We looked at children differently for that time. I know this because I took mine with me everywhere, snuggling them up in restaurant booths, letting them run giggling on sidewalks and encouraging them to enjoy being children, even in public places. I was so grateful for their lives, I just wanted to watch them living.
And here was the miracle: I began to notice that instead of seeing irritated looks from people who usually would have been bothered by their noise -- their childishness -- strangers were looking on them with patient, grateful love. Adults did not hurry past them, but lingered around us, watching my kids, in the middle of the December hustle. They stood still and smiled at them warmly, as if to say, "Go on, we are watching. You are a gift and we are so glad that you are here." It happened everywhere we went. And I knew why. Sandy Hook had taught us that.
We need to love our children without taking the miracle of their lives for granted. We need be present to their warm, silly joy when it passes by us on the street. We should look them in the eyes with gentle sincerity, letting them know that they matter and that we are so very glad that they are here. "That time" should never stop.
Let's make a promise to do what Sandy Hook taught us. Love on our children. Watch them play. Scoop them up in our arms and nuzzle them. Stare in magical awe at their twinkling spirits. Feel their warmth. Let them know we are glad that they are here.
And let's pray for the families that remember those they lost today. Pray that they are always able to feel the warmth of their loved ones' lives. Pray that they are blanketed in peace, strength and hope. Let them know that we will never forget, and we will honor them by loving our children. For Sandy Hook... for good.