Today, like millions of people around the world, I was
devastated by the news that 28 people, including 20 small children, were killed
in Newtown, Connecticut when a gunman opened fire at a school.
Early reports are that the children killed were between five and 10 years old. As a parent, this is the kind of thing my mind just can’t comprehend. I’m shaken, confused and heartbroken. It’s undoubtedly pointless to try to make sense of this, but I’ve done just that, asking questions that can’t be answered, getting nowhere except to feel an even deeper sadness for the families of those affected.
The youngest of these victims, the five-year-olds, those who died and those who survived - still victims in my eyes – were or are just beginning their childhoods, their memories of meaningful experiences or events just starting to dance in their heads.
I was five years old a very long time ago, but I still have vivid memories of what I had experienced, what my life was like at that time. Perhaps to help me put this in some perspective, to try to understand who we lost today and who will forever be affected, I thought back to who I was at that age.
I woke up each morning before anyone else and crept down the stairs to the TV room, stopping at the door, terrified to reach inside the darkened room to turn on the lights, certain that one day someone or something would grab me. I’d have only a test pattern to watch on the black and white set, until eventually the national anthem would play, followed by a show like The Hilarious House of Frightenstein.
I’d walk to school alone, covering a distance that seemed normal then, but is laughable today and would surely have me taking a bus. I dawdled every step of the way, turning each trip into an hour long adventure, making me forever late and exasperating my parents.
I once accidentally painted a girl’s hair green.
Our teacher, Mrs. Schneider, taught us odd and even numbers by having Stephen and Moninder stand at the front of the class and count to ten, Stephen saying his numbers in a normal voice, Moninder whispering hers, Moninder seeming unsure of the exercise and her role the entire time.
We read Mr. Muggs.
I wore a shirt with Charlie Brown patterns on it for my school picture day, my unbrushed hair standing straight up on end.
There was a girl who waited for me after school every day, so she could walk across the road, never speaking to me, seeming just to watch me, years before I knew that this odd behaviour was called “stalking.”
At night, we played at Redford Park, unsupervised, and rode our bicycles with Charlie’s Angels trading cards stuck in the spokes so we sounded like motorcycles.
We walked to the Cambria Quick Stop, about halfway to the school, to spend our parents’ money on Lucky Elephant Pink Candy Popcorn and other treats.
I watched The Six Million Dollar Man on TV once a week, thinking the episodes that featured Bigfoot – a most ridiculous plot twist and quite obviously a man in an ape costume - pure television magic.
I had sleepovers at my friend Tommy’s house, one evening getting to run to his house after an episode of The Six Million Dollar Man, in a snowstorm, a freedom I’d never felt before.
On hot sunny days, when my grandfather would come to visit, I’d sit on the back of his pickup truck and stare at the rocks that lined my driveway, once falling and cracking open my forehead and blacking out.
Sometimes we’d get together on someone’s lawn and throw our Tonka Trucks as high into the air as we could, then watch them as they crashed to the ground. A Tonka Truck mishap resulted in another busted scalp, blackout, and a trip to the hospital.
At Christmas, my dad shook his gift and joked that it might be a hockey stick, an umbrella, maybe a car, before I yelled, “It’s a tie!” which made everyone laugh, though I didn’t understand the reason for the laughter.
I was terrified of the snow plow that cleared the sidewalk, seeming to sneak up on me each time from around the corner, filling me with adrenaline and sending me scurrying to the nearest driveway to safety.
I have no idea how similar or different these memories were or are from the Newtown kids, but this is what I know of 5-years-old, what I remember. This is who we lost.
I’ve done so much living since this time that it’s impossible for me to fathom, again as a parent, the knowledge that your child may only have had these experiences, these memories. So too is it impossible to think of the life of the child who now must also carry the burden of this terrible day, knowing tragedy that no 5-year-old should ever know.
I sincerely hope that after today, countries everywhere, including my own, will look more closely at gun control and do whatever needs to be done to make these tragedies less likely. We also need to ask if we’re doing all we can do to help people with mental illnesses.
If this doesn’t get people to act, I’m not sure what will.