The news out of Connecticut today is a heart-breaking, gut-wrenching horror.
It immediately brought to mind one of the old issues of Paris Match magazine I've kept. It's issue #2444, dated March 28, 1996. The entire cover is taken up with what look like classic black-and-white school portraits, a dozen-odd little kids smiling at the camera. A single, large headline appears above the block of photos: "Ils Sont Tous Nos Enfants" -- they are all our children.
Inside the magazine, the cute cover becomes a horror story. On March 13, 1996, failed shopkeeper & scoutmaster Thomas Hamilton entered the Dunblane Primary School in Dunblane, Scotland, carrying four handguns and over 700 rounds of ammunition. He went to the gymnasium and opened fire on a kindergarten class there, killing 15 children outright. Their teacher, Gwen Mayor, was also killed as she fought to defend her students. Hamilton then went outside and began randomly shooting into a nearby mobile classroom; amazingly, the teacher inside had realized something was wrong and had all the students lay down on the floor just seconds before bullets began coming through the walls and windows. Hamilton then turned and fired at a group of children he saw in a nearby corridor, wounding their teacher before putting a gun in his mouth and pulling the trigger. Another 11 children and 3 adult school staff were rushed to the hospital, where an additional little girl was pronounced dead. The teacher who died defending her class was only 45; one little boy was six, all the other victims were just five years old.
I remember reading the article for the first time, back when the magazine was new, with a slowly-growing sense of anger at what this highly defective human being did. Somewhere in all those thoughts was a quiet curiosity... What about the wounded who survived, their families? What about the families whose children were taken from them so abruptly? What were they thinking and feeling? I understood the basic meaning of the headline and the message the magazine staff was trying to convey, but somehow I was a step removed from truly understanding.
That particular magazine has come into mind several times since then; most notably April 20, 1999; April 16, 2007; March 10, 2009; January 28, 2011; July 20, 2012; August 5, 2012; and most recently December 11, 2012. (That's a short list; go here for something a little more horrifyingly complete.) Each time, I've felt the same powerless anger at the needless death, the burning curiosity about what could drive someone to commit such a crime, and -- a little more each time -- what it must be like for those left behind. Still, I remained one step removed.
Well, now there's this little 3-1/2 year old girl who thinks her uncle's the best thing since bread (never mind slicing it) and who is in my mind the most important person on this planet. I know how I feel when she's sick, when she cries, when she's crochety from just waking up and doesn't want to be bothered. I know how it feels to have a little voice call out "Uncle Brian!" across a room followed by a very little person wrapping herself happily around my leg. And I'm watching the news and reading the blogs and listening to the radio...
...and suddenly I understand.
I'm not a step removed. I'm not a half-step removed.
They are all our children.
And I keep catching myself crying.
I know what it means now. I can understand what one father meant when he said his mad rush to the school from work was the longest drive of his life, what another father felt when he was at a loss for words even just trying to ask what to tell his little boy, what the young woman in the photo crying into her phone trying to find out if her sister was still alive was going through.
Ils sont tous nos enfants.
They are all our children.
Every single one of us is the mother father sister brother uncle aunt grandmother grandfather cousin friend coworker of every single person in that school today.
Keep those families in your thoughts & prayers. Wish them well.
Wish them healing.
Photo sources, top to bottom: EPA; Gary Jeanfaivre/Newtown Patch; Jessica Hill/AP Photo
My niece joined the family on July 12th, 2010. This special young lady's mother is my younger sister, which in classic Chinese culture makes me her Jiu Jiu (舅舅-- thus the title of this blog. Here I intend to semi-regularly post reflections, thoughts, stories, and assorted whathaveyous pertaining to our trip to China, adoption in general, and (mostly) watching my niece grow up. Since the web is a very public place, I will attempt to maintain my family's privacy while telling the story... but I invite you to follow the blog and come along for the adventure!