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Gerit Quealy Headshot

An Anthem for Sandy Hook

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Loss is made endurable by love...

It is a line I "found" in an expected place, the voiceover of the PBS series Call in the Midwife.

I was watching it with my cousin while trying to explain to her what spending most of the week in Sandy Hook, Conn., was like just before the holidays, and while I was wrestling with how to even begin this post. That line resonated.

We have all been touched by devastating tragedy in recent weeks and months... longer if you think about it. The Sandy Hook tragedy was a dark, ugly splotch on an ever-escalating graph, as news outlets pointed out, of shootings like this in schools, malls, movie theaters, and more, beginning with Columbine in 1999.

The Sandy Hook tragedy was an apex in a country that has had enough violence.

But, as a beautiful piece written by Nestor Ramos in a Rochester newspaper considered, even that didn't prevent another blot on the graph.

"I think tragedy, if we let it, can improve us. But not by making us stronger. Too many of us today spend our time trying to be strong instead of being vulnerable. We keep our spirits concealed, shuffling alone through our lives as we brush up against all the people we never really touch."

How do we let it "improve us"? Ramos said: "We Need to Keep Carrying Each Other."

Sitting at the services for Ben Wheeler, I and all of the close friends of David and Francine and Nate Wheeler wondered, how do we carry them? And not just us, the whole town, the whole country and the world was struck to the heart's core by this act of brutality.

In a large part because the violence this time involved so many human beings barely past toddler age. What could possibly be worse? What would it take for people to stand up and take action in a world so largely defined by violence now? Killing babies? someone said.

But this has a singular ache; these were little people with big personalities, and talents, and dreams. Already embarked on the road of life. Just.

My favorite picture of Ben Wheeler, 6, is emblematic of all of the Sandy Hook children, I think: Aloft, about to jump in with both feet, the road he had come by visible, the road ahead cut off, invisible... and the reflection in the pool of water the impression he'd made on the world so far....

...and there was about to be more... almost.

How do we be positive change? How do we "carry each other"?

There were songs written about the tragedy. I listened to "Twenty-six Names", and heard about one that had the 911 calls in the background. No. Just saw a folk rendition of a children's chorus singing "Somewhere over the Rainbow."

David and Francine Wheeler are musicians. At the funeral, in addition to Ben's beloved Beatles, songs by Ben's beloved parents played, from a children's CD they had released just before Ben was born called Come Sit Beside Me.

When the lilting strains of "Stars in the Sky" wafted through the church, I thought, this should be the anthem -- an original song written and sung by the parents of one of the slain children.

It is a love song and a lullaby, and a lyrical way to keep the souls of Sandy Hook alive and uppermost in our minds as we lift our voices to carry each other toward a renewed focus on humanity in this country.

Davis and Francine spoke publicly for the first time on the one-month anniversary of the tragedy, to explain the focus of Sandy Hook Promise, a nonprofit whose mission, in part, is to go beyond policy and partisan politics,

"To have the conversations on ALL the issues.
Conversations where listening is as important as speaking.
Conversations where even those with the most opposing views
can debate in good will."

And maybe sing. St. Augustine said that singing is like praying twice.

The Sandy Hook Promise says "we choose love" and asks that the town be remembered as the place where change began. When these parents further articulated their thoughts on the Rachel Maddow Show, David said, "Just keeping thinking about this..."

How can we do that without bursting into tears as so many of us have done so often in the last month, or worse, going numb? We can hum a hymn of love for them and for each other to ease our hearts, that allows us to remember them in sweet rest. Francine recalled her father saying, "'Ben is going to do amazing things,'" adding "I just didn't know it was going to be in his death; I thought it was going to be in his life."

A line in the "Stars in the Sky" goes "I will be holding your dreams..."

And they will. And we all can, for all the Sandy Hook "stars in the sky."

I humbly invite you to share the song, with each other, with your local radio stations, at demonstrations or dinners, wherever. I can hear it orchestrated in my head. Sing it, hum it -- humming has health benefits -- hold their dreams up to the heavens and back that this be a world they would have wanted to grow up in.

Many thanks to Laird Ogden and Patrick Riviere for their time, technical expertise and help.

Gerit Quealy writes on Style & Substance at NBC's StyleGoesStrong.com.