Honoring The Children Of Sandy Hook One Year Later

Sandy Hook memorial photoIt’s hard to believe it’s been a year since the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. Everyone assumed this would be the tipping point and, yet, so little has changed. Another Colorado school had a shooting just yesterday, reminding us that, as of yet, the lives of those 20 children and 7 adults has been in vain.

As someone who wasn’t directly affected by the incident, there’s almost a sense of survivor’s guilt. I remember trying to hold on to the slightest bit of positive for these people, lest my heart explode as I felt their agony by proxy. I remember when I read that no one had lost more than one child (which was a total possibility considering there were many siblings in the school), I thought, “Well, at least there’s that. At least these parents have other children to love.”

Over the year that has passed, my thoughts have shifted on this. I think it’s because my own kids have gone from 2 to 3 and 4 to 5 in that year and, within that time, they have become such little boys. No more babies. They have come into their own as real human beings, with individual wants, needs, thoughts, and opinions.

My three-year-old has the sweetest, shyest smile you’ll ever see, and he’ll flash you one of these when he catches you watching him (as he does to me all the time). He’s a real observer. He sits back and watches everyone, telling me later his thoughts on all that have gone down that day (including a recent story that his teacher told him to stop picking his nose). He’s wildly energetic and feisty and funny and loving.

My five-year-old is so, so sensitive. He once cried at a bagel shop because he said a group of girls were laughing at him. It broke my heart, as I was suddenly aware that this wouldn’t be close to the last time something like this would happen. He’s so inquisitive and eager to learn. He asks questions upon questions and then more questions, and soaks up the answer into his sponge-like brain. He sings from the backseat with wild abandon, and tells me that each song that comes on is his favorite. He’s sweet and smart and affectionate and silly.

It has hit me with a powerful punch to the gut that, it wouldn’t matter if I had 1, 2, or 10 more children to tend to — that the absence of one of these little people would leave a void that could never, ever be filled. Each of them had unique personalities, funny, quirky likes and dislikes, and an outlook on life that was completely their own. My heart physically aches for the parents of those taken, not only because their children are gone but because they were ripped from them in a brutally violent way.

If you look on the newly launched website to honor the victims, you’ll see statements like this by the victims’ families:

Charlotte Bacon: “We miss her singing loudly with the car radio, hearing her feet always running, never walking down the hallway in our home.”

Daniel Barden:  “Daniel was a child who would hold the door open for strangers, scoop up his tiny ant friends to reunite them with their families, and befriend the classmate who always sat alone.”

Benjamin Wheeler: “We followed every direction he gave as we scratched his back at bedtime, played every Beatles song he requested, and knew that if we skipped a page in that night’s book we would certainly hear about it.”

Josephine Gay: “She was a happy, affectionate, little girl who overcame many challenges in life. She laughed loudly and gave love freely and genuinely. Her smile lit up a room and captured everyone around her.

Jessica Rekos: “Jess adored her little brothers and loved being with them. Weeks before she died, her horseback riding instructor asked Jess who her best friend was and she replied, ‘My brother, Travis’.”

Madeline Hsu: “We remember how life for you was a dance and a race. You loved to run ahead to the next big adventure. Always running…never walking but sometimes dancing, skipping and hopping to whatever you were going to do next.”

Anna Marquez-Greene: “She instituted the house rule of “seconds”. Her favorite seconds included second breakfast, second dessert and second hugs… And she could out-groove just about anyone.”

Noah Pozner: “He loved a joke and playing tricks on his sisters. We miss his full-bellied laughter and the twinkle in his beautiful eyes every minute of every day.”

James Radley Mattioli: “‘J’ loved to be a part of whatever his sister was doing; he learned so much from her and they had an amazing relationship.”

Emilie Parker: “Emilie was an exceptional artist, and we enjoyed watching her as she expressed her creativity, love, excitement and her true self through art.”

Allison Wyatt: “She often drew pictures for her teachers, her school bus driver, school friends, relatives and anyone else she adored. We found a final picture that Allie had drawn for her first grade teacher, Miss Soto, complete with ‘I love you, Love Allie’.”

Chase Kowalski: ” He was a fun-loving, energetic boy who had a true love of life. He completed his first triathlon at the age of six and ran in many community road races.”

Dylan Hockley: “We remember his smile. His laugh … His deep empathy in reacting to the feelings of others … The way he would lie in the warm sand at the beach, or take joy in finding the moon in the sky. How he called lightning ‘beautiful’, even while he was scared by the thunder.”

Jesse McCord Lewis: “He brought joy to the world with his infectious and ever ready smile and was wise beyond his years. Jesse used his last few minutes on earth yelling to his friends to run, saving many lives.”

Olivia Engel: “This smart, bubbly NY Yankee fan and Daisy Girl Scout would instantly light up a room with her humor, charm, and wit. She was a sweet and appreciative six-year-old with a lot to live for. Her physical loss will deeply be felt every day by those who loved her most, but her sparkly spirit will live on forever.”

Jack Pinto: “He was a son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin and friend. He was the heart of our family. We miss his huge smile, his giggles, and the excitement he brought to our life each and every day. We miss the mischievous grin on his face when he was caught eating snacks before dinner and the laughter in his voice while having a football pass in the driveway.”
Grace McDonnell: “She was full of life, imagination and sparkle. She loved her family, and her big brother Jack was her best friend. They were inseparable, and she took great pride in keeping up with him as they shared adventures big and small.”
Avielle Richman: “With a spitfire personality, and a love of laughter, Avielle was rarely without a giant grin, and was often barefoot. Like her parents, she loved stories and demanded them as she was falling asleep, taking a bath, riding in the car, and on every walk she took. She already understood that her life — her growing up — was going to be a series of stories.”
There were two children who had no link to their profiles, and I can only imagine that their parents were in too much pain to even put into words what their loved ones meant to them.

Children are the light of our lives. You hear that expression but it’s more than just that. With their giggles, smells, antics, sayings, and general shenanigans, they are like living, breathing candles — illuminating all those around them. In that way, teachers are so amazingly lucky. To be around light much of the day is good for the soul. As adults, we can become jaded, and that light begins to fade. It’s not unusual to see an adult who, while still alive, has had the light completely extinguished. One look at the profiles on the Sandy Hook memorial website, and you could see that these little ones were taken when their light was still shining so bright.

While gun legislation and the overhaul of the mental health system is still abysmally lagging, there’s no denying the rise of the human spirit has been undeniable. Random acts of kindness abound. Whole websites like Upworthy have been formed to shine a spotlight on the amazing things people do for one another each day. Layaway bills have been paid. Blood has been donated. Anonymous people have done good deeds for those in need. So, in honor of those we lost who were still filled with so much brightness, let’s not wallow in the darkness that is the lagging legislation and, instead, shower those around us with love and light.

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