Although the weather man called for "a clear day", it was gray and slightly misty this morning. So instead off walking, I drove the boy to school and asked for a hug. He was surprised by it but complied, running off soon enough though to join his friends. A list of a million errands awaited me so I made room for other parents' cars as quickly as I could, driving away with nary a glance in the direction of his steps.
"I won't have a tree this year", I wrote back as a friend showed me hers, all via mobile phone messaging. The annual scene of dad carrying the boy overhead to place the angel made me smile with an ache. Or perhaps I never truly adopted this holiday at heart to muster enough cheer and tackle the tasks of lugging, propping, sweeping, untangling and trimming.
Lunchtime found me at a cafe meeting some important people, half a million errands still shouting for their place in line. As I waited, the TV screen grabbed my attention, announcing one horrific words after another, "children..., elementary school..., shooting..., shock..., Obama..., tears..., half mass..."
It had darkened outside, turning clear noon sky into the color of an angry flat face. Rain seemed imminent yet temporarily stalled, all the more oppressing and menacing. Invisible needles worked their way around my eyes, and I felt sick in the stomach. "Schools..., elementary schools..., father, every parent, grief, will mourn..." they repeated these words over and over again, until I needn't listen any more. I kept still until the important people returned with their food. "It seems the time of each shooting has become compressed, and it is shorter and shorter now from the last shooting to the next time it will happen..." one of them commented. He was always a very precise speaker, never more than this moment.
Rain came down hard after lunch, making a popping sound on roofs and windows. The news woman had said that was what the shots sounded like, "pop", she described. Children reported as such, "not like real gun shots...". I couldn't make sense of this but I couldn't help imagining what that would be like, if every pop I heard were "not like real gun shots" but really were real gun shots and people were dying next to me or squishing me in a tiny bathroom scared. I wanted to reach over and pat them gently on the head, to tell each one of them they "did a good job". They inspired me into that mental picture, though in the end I accepted that the only thing I could do was keep thinking and keep praying.
Yet they continued to inspire, all over. Somehow those children (or children in general) had this way of reaching out to the world and grabbing it by the tail and spinning it around, wide eyed and fearless, even while staring squarely in the face of evil. They noticed and remembered the important things, like "Christmas..., someone to play with..., and he saved me!"
And their courage saved me. Heartbroken with grief so new the words today had threatened to rip away all the band-aids I had so carefully put in place. Yet I could not help but finding hope in their hopes, and wanting to join in the leagues of wide eyed staring and spinning and remembering about the important things -- the moments at hand, the moments that counted, the Christmas memories to cherish.
I had read somewhere yesterday that a child's memory has created a movement -- "Pay it Forward Jayden Style" -- I believed it was called. The child who inspired this had died of cancer recently but told his dad just before that 'God needs me more. I was your angel before I was born'. "He loved to help people and this would have made him so happy", his father had commented upon learning about people's random acts of kindness in Jayden's honor. I could imagine no parents wouldn't be torn apart by the loss of a child, no matter what. But this story too made me smile, though with an ache, it was the good kind.
So the day maybe all chilling and darkening, rain pops, leaden clouds and temperatures aside, I held on and I stared wide eyed for hours; until one by one, I saw millions of candles alight, lighting up the world, one small pop of hope at a time.