“They only have two hours of childhood left.”
It was this fleeting comment by a woman in Newtown, CT yesterday that has rendered me useless. I cannot shake her distraught and heart-broken expression as she explained to the rolling cameras that she was across town to console her friends while delaying the pick-up of her own children. She wanted her kids to enjoy their innocence for just a few hours more.
I sat with the same dilemma while at my desk in Minnesota. I sobbed at the overwhelming loss. At the grief that enveloped my every thought. I longed to hold my children, to grab their precious faces in my hands and gaze endlessly into their bright little eyes. I knew they would come home from their school-days without a clue about what unfolded in horrific fashion hundreds of miles away, and all I wanted was to stop the vicious clock from ticking.
The clock is the problem, you know. We know all childhood, all innocence, all life will inevitably end, but we hate the truth of that. We pine for more joy than grief as we’re living, and we hurt so much for the children because they are our balance between hope and loss.
When my 12-year-old bound in the door, I greeted him in the kitchen and held him. We embraced in silence until he mumbled into my shoulder, “You alright mom?” “No” I explained and pulled back to make eye contact with him. He had heard some rumblings, and we talked about the news, and the horror, and the overwhelming feelings of grief, anger, sadness, confusion, and despair.
He knew better than to give me away when I hugged his sisters just as hard.
The girls are in fifth and first grades. They are who I picture cowering in closets or hiding in cupboards, and I was hopeful they would stay unaware for quite a while.
I knew the fifth grader would eventually catch on, and when she asked me about an Instagram photo she saw, my heart gently splintered. Our first-grader still doesn’t know, but I can hear that deafening click of the clock hand.
While I cannot help but to consider something will have to be done about this…measures will have to be taken…forward movements will need to be made, there remains this space of time that needs to be lived too.
It brings me to another scene I watched unfold this week reminding me that where grief exists, joy can too.
Most weekdays, about 2:30 in the afternoon, I watch a young man arrive at the house across the street to visit the teen-aged daughter who lives there. Most days he gets his crutches out of the car and slowly makes his way to the front door.
The young man’s name is Zach Sobiech, and he is a 17-year-old boy who is dying from cancer. His ticking clock is loud, and he hears it, but he has made a conscious decision to live in spite of it.
The last few weeks he has been in the news for a song he wrote to say good-bye to his friends and family.
Then Zach gave me a gift of joy I will never forget.
One sunny and somewhat unseasonably warm day this week, I noticed Zach out of his car. His crutches were sticking out of the snow, and he picked up snowballs and threw them. He launched one down the street, one at his car, and he threw a few gently down at his feet. He walked painfully, without his crutches, over to the snowplowed pile of snow in the middle of the cul-de-sac. I couldn’t take my eyes off of him. He picked up another few snowballs, and after throwing them, he made his way back to the drive.
A silent tear streaked down my face and I said to my husband, who had turned from his work to watch Zach too, “he’s just a kid playing in the snow.”
The next snowball he grabbed was cupped and hidden behind his back as his attention obviously moved from what he was doing to something down the street. Amy’s car pulled into the driveway, and it was apparent he was readying himself for a surprise attack.
The driver’s door opened and when Amy realized the plan, she quickly shut it. He raised his empty hands in innocence, and Amy made her way out of the car. It wasn’t long before the two of them were in the powder of the yard. Zach arm-swiped the snow toward Amy first, and she quickly returned fire. She approached him laughing and he offered her a hug. They embraced for a moment in the sun-kissed snow, and then she let him slowly pull her down into the snow with him. They splashed each other with powder and I found myself breathlessly smiling and crying in the same glorious moment.
Life is full of triumph and tragedy, celebration and sorrow, joy and grief. It is only what we choose in even the smallest moments that define the lives we live. There will be those who rise in anger about what happened in Newtown…there will be those who rise in action…and there will be those who will be unable to rise for quite some time. There’s no telling how we’ll react until we are in any particular moment.
In this moment, in my small kitchen in Minnesota, I hear the girls making play-doh worlds to the backdrop music of some boy band. There is a clock ticking in the background, but maybe my job as their mom is not to do what I can to keep them in an ephemeral childhood, but rather to embrace the fleeting moments, and to throw myself into that proverbial pile of snow to make snow angels any chance I get.