Remembering Sandy Hook

A few weeks ago I talked with Bernie, the first Paramedic to respond to the massacre at Sandy Hook. We talked for an hour, and a friendship was started. He mentioned that nobody has ever asked him what he saw that day.

“We can imagine,” I said, immediately regretting it.

He snapped at me, and rightly so, and said, with festering rage barely concealed, “nobody will ever imagine that.”

He is right, and still working EMS in Newton.

Somehow.

sandy hook

It’s Christmastime again in New England, and with the season comes the chores. I don’t mind doing my share, running to the stores is my job while Mrs. Morse takes care of the home front. Three years ago I was doing what I always do the days leading up to the big day, driving through town, listening to the radio, making stop after stop, buying groceries, a few gifts and enjoying the hustle and bustle of the season. When the first reports about a shooting at an elementary school came in I assumed it was a love triangle or something, and hoped no innocent people were killed or injured. As updates flooded my car, and the reality seeped in it was all I could do to get home. A fog descended in my mind, traffic signals became confusing, traffic difficult and overwhelming sorrow was all I felt.

The sorrow still lingers, I cannot imaging how Bernie and everybody in Newton Connecticut will get through the season. But I know they will.

I stood in line at the grocery store, patiently waiting for the people ahead of me to finish. A mom and her daughter; the girl filled with excitement and anticipation, her mom too busy to notice much more than the bottom line displayed on the register readout as it went incredibly higher, and higher: $68.35, then 97.32, a few more items, then 110.87. As the last item rolled down the treadmill a look of relief crossed her face, probably mentally subtracting the groceries from the balance sheet in her head. She swiped her card, and the little girl stared at me, and I stared back. I tried to smile, but all I could think of was the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school this time just three years ago, and how this little girl could easily be just a memory.

She smiled anyway, oblivious to the thoughts in my head, and it brought me out of my reverie, and I managed to give her a lopsided grin, then she was gone, following her mom out of the store, mesmerized by the ornate holiday decorations as only a six year old at Christmastime can be.

I wondered then about the homes in Newtown, Connecticut, and the empty places where the Christmas trees would be. Try as I might to make sense of the tragedy and put it behind me, and think of it as some aberration; a blip in the serenity that I try so hard to convey every December, it was impossible. All I lost that day was a temporary suspension of my own manifestation of goodwill toward men, and peace on earth. I did not lose a child, or a mother, sister, daughter, or friend. My life moved on, what Christmas Spirit I had managed to create lost, but likely easily re-ignited. I would be able to fake it and get through the season, and make the next one better.

But what of the people directly affected? What happened in December, 2012 cannot be dismissed, or rationalized, or prayed away. For them, their lives will forever be scarred. Time won’t heal their wounds; time will allow the anger and disillusionment to fester, and the hopelessness of it all to seep in. We get old, and as we age the magic in life becomes harder and harder to capture. Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone, and the thrill of living ended abruptly for the victims and families of Shady Hook.

I’m just a guy in Rhode Island who had nothing to do with any of it, yet still I find it difficult to forget the events that happened that day, and move away from the thought that such madness can coincide with the joy that the Christmas season brings. It is unfathomable to me that so many people had their faith, innocence and optimism taken away from them, and must live with the harsh reality that life veered out of control with no warning, and nothing would ever be the same.

I hope that little girl in the grocery store never has to think about these things, and that her mother keeps her as safe as she can, and manages to somehow provide a magical Christmas for her. Grant me that, and I’ll never ask for another thing for Christmas.

4 Comments

  • Greg Friese says:

    Michael,

    3 years ago, after we finished dinner, I tried to explain Sandy Hook to my kids – just home from a Friday at elementary school.

    I told them what to do if/when they hear gunfire, the difference between concealment and cover, and why they need to listen and do everything the teacher says. It felt just as profoundly inadequate then as it does now.

    After a week at kindergarten why should I be explaining to a 5-year-old how to conceal herself from a homicidal maniac?

  • Anonymous from Sandy Hook says:

    Thank you for remembering our community. It’s so hard to answer the question of “how we’re all doing” since so many people are at different places in the healing process. We will never forget and there are some scars that can never be healed. Our community has been forever changed. Our children who survived were robbed of their childhood innocence and forced to grow up faster than you can ever imagine. In a Remembrance Mass last night, we certainly prayed for those families and first responders who experienced hell on earth three years ago. But we were also reminded that it’s in our moments of greatest weakness that we often gather our greatest strength. Our community has been blessed with the true meaning of compassion and kindness and we are reminded of the pure love and goodness that those victims represented – innocent, happy, loving children – and educators who sacrificed their own lives to protect those children. Christmas does live on – those trees are still lit in the homes that were directly affected – and Sandy Hook Center just celebrated another beautiful tree lighting. There is joy this time of year, but also a great amount of conflicting pain for many who are still broken. Love Wins.

    • Michael Morse says:

      Beautifully expressed, thank you for taking the time to let us know there is hope. Thanks too for letting me know that the trees are where I thought emptiness was. All the best to you and your community, God bless.

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