The eight-year-old female soloist with long hair and freckles concluded the song. The children belted out, “Happy Birthday, Jesus!” in a confetti of sweetly discordant voices. A majority of the congregation rose to their feet. Tears filled my eyes. Every single child was a stranger. Still, I clapped my hands so hard, my fingertips stung. After all of the children had filed off stage – bumping into each other like calves eager to exit the shoot – and went into their classrooms, the pastor paused and looked at us, wiping our eyes. Bowing his head, he led us in a prayer for the families grieving in Newtown, Connecticut.
Right now, those twenty deceased children should be sitting cross-legged and starry-eyed in front of the tree. They should be shaking brightly-wrapped gift boxes and wishing for X-ray vision to see if what they put on the Christmas list actually matches what’s inside. They should be sliding dimes across the tops of their dressers to calculate how much money they still need to buy hot pads for Mom and plain white socks for Dad, just like last year.
But those twenty children and six adults will never experience the wonder of Christmas — or of life — again.
Oh, how it angers me just to see it typed.
Eleven years ago, I was fifteen years old. It was September 16th, 2001. I sat in a musty YMCA locker room with seven other tenth graders from church.
The leaders of our class were a husband and wife team. The wife dug a hand back through her short, frosted hair and asked our opinion about what happened that Tuesday in New York.
Even then, it did not take much prompting to get me to talk. I raised my hand, and she nodded and smiled. Opening my Bible, I quoted a verse that had been quoted to me. It talked about Babylon having fallen.
I then said that America was like Babylon. Because of our sin, we had fallen, too.
The woman’s nostrils pinched shut as she sucked in breath. Her face flushed. Her lips whitened.
I forget what she said, but I will never forget her anger.
I was hurt and embarrassed to the point of tears. Later, her husband apologized, but I did not speak up for the rest of the year.
Looking back now, I can understand the woman better than I can understand who I was then. I wish I could have clapped my hand over my own teenage mouth, and then shaken my shoulders until my teeth chipped.
I knew almost nothing of pain or fear. Even just days after so many lost their lives, that Sunday morning I was more interested in impressing the football player sitting next to me than I was actually dissecting the life-altering event that had just taken place.
My flippant remark concerning September 11th is why I will not use this post to analyze what happened on December 14th.
How can we use those children’s deaths to validate our arguments when the parents have not even had a chance to place a tiny casket in the ground, never mind the chance to heal?
And so I beseech you: Take a moment and consider how you would feel if you were one of those twenty children’s parents, who have gifts beneath a Christmas tree that will never be unwrapped.
If you can see yourself there – staring down at names written on presents, names that are now being immortalized in stone – and you still believe your quotes, verses, statistics, or petitions are beneficial, then they probably are. Feel free to go ahead.
But let us please counter this visible stance with quiet intercession on the behalfs of those who are grieving.
What other ways do you think we can reach out to the community of Newtown, Connecticut?
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” ~Psalm 147:3