It’s been snowing and raining since Sunday, and my daughters and I made a snowman after school yesterday. It’s perfect snowman making snow, thick, heavy, and moist. The kind that holds a lot of moisture and sticks together. It reminds me a lot of the snow we had growing up as a kid, we called it “heart attack” snow because shoveling a driveway and sidewalk of the stuff was sure to induce a heart attack. It’s a very southern New England kinda snow. Very Connecticut snow, actually.
I was lucky this weekend. We wrapped filming of my latest film, The Green Knight. The lead up to a shoot is always busy and hectic, even. Not a lot of time to do much else but prepare and take care of my girls, usually. I’m often very preoccupied. However, on Friday, when I heard the news of the tragedy in Connecticut, I was stunned into inactivity like the rest of the country, I think. I grew up in Connecticut. I have six nieces and nephews who attend school in Connecticut. One brother is a superintendent of schools, the other is a police officer. Before my wife and I moved to Vermont, my wife taught elementary school in Connecticut. I have a friend who lives with her husband and three sons and teaches in Newtown.
To say the news caused me great consternation is an understatement. However, I don’t think I was alone. I think the rest of the country felt very much the very same way.
I wanted to immediately go to my daughters’ school and pull them out for the day and hug them. Cuddle them, not let them go. I almost left, but caught myself. It wasn’t the right thing to do, it wouldn’t have been the right example, or the message I would later want to send to them.
Like I said, I was lucky. I closed the news windows in my browser, shut down Facebook, and poured myself into my work. When it was time to pick up my daughters, I hugged them tighter and longer than usual. Luckily though, I do that often, so my kids didn’t pick up on it. They didn’t notice the extra moisture to my eyes when I let go of them either. We went to the barn where my daughters take riding lessons and did our Friday chores. We went home. I made dinner, and they played. I listened to their giggling and cherished it more than usual.
And for the next three days my family was able to forget and delve into our movie. Our film productions are always family affairs. Wives, brothers, children, and friends who are more family than friends now, all participate. It sounds cowardly, but I was able to escape into my movie and my youth. I was able to play a knight who defies death, forgetting – momentarily – about real heroes, princes, and princesses who were unable to.
While so many families mourned, while one brother spoke at an all faith gathering, I played fantasy. Forgetting about the reality of true villainy and monsters while I masqueraded as a honorable knight. It was… cowardly.
On Monday morning because of the snow, my wife had a snow day. My girls did not, however, but we kept them home from school anyway. Not because of what happened on Friday in Connecticut, but because of the long busy weekend. They were tired and there was fresh snow on the ground. It was a good day to be a kid, but we still needed to talk with them about what had happened Friday. I needed to speak with them before I left for set and our final day of shooting.
I told them we needed to talk and they turned their attention to us. I told them a very bad person, did a very bad thing, in a school in Connecticut on Friday. They asked what, and I told them he brought a gun to school. They asked did people get hurt, and I said yes, and some even died. My youngest daughter asked, “kids?”, and I said yes, and teachers too. They thought about this for a moment. My youngest asked who did it. I gave her his name, but then I said something that I pray they hold on to. I told them that person’s name doesn’t matter, what matters is that they understand that on that day there was only one bad person in that school. Just one, but a whole school full of good ones. Hundreds of good and brave students and teachers, and there were thousands of good people in the surrounding town, but only one bad one.
I went on to tell them that just because bad people do bad things, we will not stop being good. We will continue to be brave, continue to treat people rightly, and not stop loving our family, friends, and neighbors. No matter how many bad people there are, we won’t stop doing good and loving. We won’t. Not. Ever.
I hugged my wife and daughters a little bit tighter and a little bit longer before I left for set. I got to ride an enormous gentle horse and pretend I was a hero for one more night before our production wrapped. I came home, and kissed my girls goodnight as they slept in their beds. I tucked hair behind ears, smiled at sleeping faces, and breathed them in.
I then sat on the couch and began to read. I read about the tragedy. I read about the victims. About the children. I reread the profiles of all the victims. I needed to put them to memory, remembering the smiles, their stories. Everyone of them were my daughters, whether they were a boy or a girl, they were my children. So similar and so innocent. I went to bed when I couldn’t read anymore. When I couldn’t bear to think about and emphasize with the parents in Newtown anymore. I tried to be brave for them, I tried to live this tragedy with them as much as could, but I couldn’t bear it any longer.
The next day, after we finished our morning routine, and my wife left with my daughters for work and to drop them at school, I sat down and began reading again. I read about the heroes. Every one.
It was hard to wait to pick my girls up, hard not to race the short drive to their school and take them home, but I couldn’t. I needed to let them be at school, be assured they were safe, that their school is full of good people. It is, I know it is. Brave teachers and good students. I have trusted them with my girls for the last three years, and I won’t let one bad person stop me from continuing.
However, I waited and it was hard, but I picked them up at dismal. After my girls and I finished our snowman, and I began to bring in firewood while they continued to smooth and sculpt him, my thoughts drifted back to Newtown. I stacked wood into my bucket and then under my arm as I began to hear it from around our house.
My daughters began to sing Christmas carols as they played in the snow and perfected their snowman. And I began to cry. I cried for the children and their teachers. For their parents, siblings, and families. I cried for neighbors and the millions of parents and people watching from afar.
But, mostly, I cried because had it not been for the horrific tragedy in Newtown, I might have never noticed that moment. I might have worked through it. Busied my self with chores or work, and missed that beautiful moment.
Through my tears I did something I haven’t done in a very long time, I said a prayer. I prayed that if but for a moment, the world would only listen to the beauty of a child singing.