The news is still profoundly, shockingly sad. It is nearly impossible to process, even days later. At Sunday evening's prayer vigil for the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, President Obama solemnly read aloud the first name of each child gunned down in Friday's massacre. As the list continued, my eyes welled up with tears. The number was painfully long; too long to comprehend. Then, came the photos of each of those angelic faces, followed by the names and images of the educators who also perished, many while trying to protect the children under their charge.
This slaughter of innocents has, rightly I believe, shocked our national conscience. We are still in the grip of despair as the victims are being laid to rest. As parents, many of us keep memories of our children in our hearts frozen in time. Before smartphones enabled us to carry all our photos everywhere, I kept a few choice snapshots of each of my kids in my wallet. They were pictures taken between preschool and second grade, precious moments to remind me of the beauty and innocence and often silliness of those brief times. They were mugging for the camera, flashing a recently gap-toothed smile, proudly posing for a Little League photo wearing a batting helmet one or two sizes too big, dressed in a Halloween costume for a school parade or blowing out a half dozen candles on a birthday cake. It's impossible to imagine these pictures of sweet joy being used to memorialize an all-too-short life, following such a senseless and horrific act of malice. Yet, images much like that were flashed on screen and once again they set off another round of tears. Sitting several feet away, I could hear my wife sniffling, as she too was crying in this moment of profound sadness.
I have spent three decades as a reporter covering tragedies. I have had the privilege of speaking with parents, wives and husbands, siblings and friends who have shared memories of loved ones taken suddenly in accidents or acts of violence. I have interviewed people in moments of unimaginable despair who were determined to let others know that their loved ones were special. I have followed far too many such tragedies: the theater shooting rampage in Aurora, Colorado; the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and eighteen others in an Arizona shopping mall; the salon shooting of workers and customers in Seal Beach, California and many, many others. I have interviewed and often consoled too many victims, each revealing their personal pain to lighten their unimaginable load. This time I was thousands of miles away, watching, along with millions of others as the magnitude of this newest tragedy unfolded. I began to wonder if I ever wanted to return to work, lacking the strength to continue sharing such stories of heartache. The veneer separating me as a reporter from the personal pain of these stories has worn thin in recent years.
I was grateful to be physically so far away. But it was not far enough to be untouched by the deep sense of personal loss. I never met any of these victims, but I felt close to each of them. They are the teachers and children who are so important in each of our lives. They represent the random smiles and precious moments of pure, unfiltered joy that give all of our lives meaning. This time my guard was down. The president aptly said, "We come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we're counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we're all parents, that they are all our children."
I pray, as I have far too many times, that this event will be different. I hope that the grief will mark a turning point and spark a national dialogue and a renewed resolve in dealing with guns, mental health, violence and, above all, in protecting the most innocent among us. If their memory is to be honored, it seems to be the least we can do. Because if we fail those most vulnerable among us, then, as a nation we have failed each other and, ultimately, we will have failed ourselves.