Saturday morning was when I really started reading the news coming out of Connecticut. When I first learned of the massacre, I was on my lunch break from work on Friday and casually checked my twitter feed. My timeline had imploded and collapsed on a place called Newtown. The funny thing about twitter is that when a major event occurs, and you’re a few hours late to it, you have to scroll back (a lot) to figure out what the hell happened.
And it turned out that Hell happened.
Children. Twenty small children and six of their teachers. I work with teenagers and they are children in my mind. But, elementary school kids? They’re barely even people yet–so small and so much more than us. They’re just impressionable, precious parts of our souls that walk around saying the most naïve and shockingly intuitive things. Careful observers of the world free of judgement or prejudice, until we shape their values and prune their seedling minds. Watching a classroom of huge, watery eyes light up in wonder when I explain to them that flowers become fruit and that acorns contain all the information necessary to create an entire tree…I live for it, it’s incredible.
But, those six-year-olds who were murdered, did they know that? Did their dead teachers have a chance to tell them?
The grief I feel for those tiny and grown-up people is almost crippling at times, especially in the morning. What is wrong with me? I didn’t even know them. I’m here in Atlanta and they’re so far away. I decided Saturday morning that nothing was wrong with me. Our empathy is a testament to our humanity. If you feel sad right now, then you are a real person. Feeling helpless, I started talking to some friends and decided that we could do something. Something small and immediate just to show that we cared, and just that for now. I don’t pretend to be an apolitical person, but I wanted this “something” to be simply an expression of our collective grief and feeling of solidarity. I DM’d (sent a direct message) to my twitter friend @megbrulee
and Standing in Solidarity with Newtown, CT
was born at 6:14p on Dec. 15, 2012.
We threw a flyer together and posted it widely on twitter and Facebook. I printed out a couple hundred and passed them out at my staff holiday party, my friend DJ Kimber
‘s dance night at Noni’s, and some ATL neighborhoods. A huge thank you to everyone who reposted the event. Spreading the word was just as important as attending
. Later that night, I went to Kroger to purchase some posters. At the Self Checkout, the attendant asked if I was working on a project. I told her that there would be a solidarity event for the Newtown, CT victims at Freedom Park on Sunday afternoon, and that I needed to make signs. Her tone suddenly changed, she asked if she could donate any money to me. Explaining that we weren’t collecting money, but just honoring those who were killed, she immediately came up with a new offer:
“Could I help you pay for the posters?”
There is so much goodness left in the world. Instead, I asked her to pass out flyers and she immediately agreed. It was almost 4:00 in the morning. The next day A, my dog and I walked to the intersection of Freedom Parkway and Moreland Ave. I was ready with my poster.
Soon after we arrived at the site, Meg (from twitter) arrived with her own sign. It was our first IRL (in real life) meeting and she turned out to be just as awesome as I had imagined. A few more of our friends arrived and we stood at the intersection quietly, hopefully showing the drivers that they were not alone in their grief.
After about an hour, I noticed a well-dressed young woman walking toward us. I was excited to see that another person had gotten word about our event. She seemed confused at first and asked us if we were from Connecticut. None of us were. She then asked if we knew anyone who had been killed. None of us did. She mentioned that she saw us holding signs after turning onto Moreland Ave. and stopped to see what was going on. I handed her a sign as she stood underneath Meg’s umbrella and remarked that it was wonderful that we were doing this. It was the least we could do. Another short moment passed and,
“I just found out this morning that my friend was killed at the school on Friday. She was a substitute teacher and was called in that day.”
My heart stopped. What were we supposed to say? We stood quietly as she told us about her best friend, how she had known her since high school and had stayed close with her ever since. She mentioned again how much it meant to her that we were standing out there, holding signs.
The ink on our posters continued to run. Cars drove by honking their horns in support while their passengers waved. A woman had the little girl in the back seat hold out a $20 bill for us, but we declined. A disheveled man in baggy clothes crossed the street to hold an umbrella over one of our heads and tried to talk to us about God in schools. We were just there to stand, so he eventually went on his way. Of all these things, the young woman who shared her sadness with us impacted our small group the most. I hope we provided some small comfort for her. If she’s reading this now, you made it all worth it.
After two and a half hours, our group dwindled down to the initial three: A–the wet patches on his shoulders steadily moving toward his waist, my beautiful white dog–probably reliving her most recent bath, and me–my glasses so beaded with moisture that the headlights glowed brilliantly as cars passed. Somehow, the weather seemed fitting. Embarrassed by my sudden tears whenever I’d see a small child riding happily in a car (How will your parents explain this to you?), the water dripping off my scalp intermingled mercifully with the briny stream on my cheeks. I almost lost it when a Southern Baptist church van, full to the brim with waving children, drove by. How did I hold it together when the young woman told her story an hour before?
Suddenly, the grief became too much, but not for me this time. My poster began to turn to pulp in my hands. Meg’s message, laying on the long granite sign for Freedom Park (everything is granite in Atlanta if it has any proper sense of self worth), became a swirling mess of red, blue and green that once boldly read “Atlanta ♡ Newtown.” Grudgingly admitting defeat, I moved a stand to hold my place as I collected the sharpies and markers neatly lined up a few feet away. It was time for us to swim home.
While our posters may have eventually disintegrated, I don’t think our message did. On the faces of the people driving by, I saw our sadness reflected. I could sense the bitter guilt as drivers quietly read our signs. So many minds thinking,
“How did we let this happen? What went so terribly wrong?”
Some of us don’t even have words to offer, and maybe that makes us feel helpless. But, we are not helpless–not together. In the gruesome face of atrocity, how will we make our stand?
I don’t know. But, I am listening. I am willing.