Local Lifestyle

Friday, Dec 13 2013 05:03 PM

VALERIE SCHULTZ: After a year, Sandy Hook pain remains

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    By Alex Horvath / The Californian

    Columnist Valerie Schultz

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By VALERIE SCHULTZ, Contributing columnist

They've gotten through that horrible year of firsts that the bereaved must endure: first Christmas, first New Year's, first birthday, first Mother's Day, first Father's Day, first last day of school, first summer vacation, first first day of a new school year, first Halloween, first Thanksgiving. The second year of grieving begins for the parents and families of the children massacred a year ago today at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a year that will probably not be any easier than the one just completed. If you are a parent, imagine that your 6-year-old will never turn 7, never turn 10, never need braces, never learn to drive, never graduate high school, never become a young adult, a college graduate, a newlywed, a parent of a 6-year-old. All of the hopes and expectations that the Sandy Hook parents had for their children lay dead in those classrooms along with the gruesome, defiled bodies of 20 first-graders. Even the imagining is cringe-inducing, let alone the horrible, heart-wrenching reality.

Sandy Hook Elementary is no more: The school that the killer attended as a boy has been razed, and the children who survived their last day there on Dec. 14 of last year now go to class on another campus. Six adults who worked at Sandy Hook Elementary are absent from the new school, as their lives also ended a year ago today. The national focus has been on the small coffins, but the adult-sized ones have also torn holes of loss in the hearts and souls of their families.

If you've ever worked at a school, you know that the kids who attend that school are your second family. This is what gives teachers and principals and staff the courage to face any threat or danger that menaces their school: They are protecting their kids. To our eyes, the six women who died facing an armed attacker at Sandy Hook were extraordinarily courageous, but I am certain that they believed they were just doing their job. They were educators who followed a calling to teach and care for the children entrusted to them. We all know educators just like them. Every day, thousands of teachers go to their school site ready to do whatever brave thing is required of them for their students. The six adults who lost their lives at Sandy Hook are simultaneously larger-than-life heroes and regular folks doing their job.

My mind sometimes lingers on that day one year ago, on the school photos etched on our national psyche, on the senselessness of such tragedy on a normal school day. The protection of all our children is our most important task as adults, and so the failure to do so is an ache that does not abate. Some of the parents of the Sandy Hook victims, organized under the name of Sandy Hook Promise, have valiantly tried to make the deaths of their children count for something, for some small progress in laws that might promote accountability for weapons and increase treatment for the mentally ill, and otherwise prevent the causes of gun violence. They have spoken at congressional hearings, appeared on TV, given newspaper interviews. They refuse to accept the sacrifice of their precious ones as meaningless. They instead strive to spark a political transformation beyond the issue of guns.

By launching the "Parent Together" campaign, the Sandy Hook parents hope to emphasize mental health, connection to community and gun safety. Says David Wheeler, whose 6-year-old son, Benjamin, was killed one year ago today: "We are stronger when we, as parents, stand together for change. Through the Parent Together campaign, we are ... reminding parents that their love for their children can overcome political paralysis. We are choosing to move away from inaction and anger, and to embrace this love to empower parents to act now in their communities."

Most of us Americans have sympathized with the pain of the Sandy Hook parents, and then gone on with our own lives. We shield ourselves from the thought of the Christmas presents not given, the shoes never again tied, the milk teeth never redeemed by the Tooth Fairy. Besides, there have been plenty of other tragic news stories about the deaths of children in the year since the Sandy Hook killings. We have compassion-fatigue, or maybe compassion-ADD. We turn off our empathy. We can hardly bear to think of those kids, those teachers, as our own. So we don't.

But today, let us think of them. Let us hold them gently in our mind's eye. Let us pause and mourn their lives abruptly ended. Let us promise them that we will honor their memory by engaging in fruitful solutions to the social ills that plague our country and steal young lives.

And lest we get bogged down in shouting matches over legalities, let us resurrect our capacity for compassion and empathy. Let us stand on the common ground of love.

These are the opinions of Valerie Schultz, not necessarily those of The Californian. Email her at vschultz22@gmail.com.

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