I'm sitting in the dining room of a Bethel, Connecticut rehab facility today. My mom looks out the window and says, "The flag is at half mast." My grandmother says, "For the children." And then we are all quiet for a few minutes, before moving back to the topics of various engagements and weddings (not actually happening within my family, but the daughter of one of our guests and one of my mom's friends, though everyone is just as excited about these as if they were our family's). We go back to the room and I watch news about comfort dogs being brought in to bring smiles to children who have been through something so horrific I still can't wrap my mind around it, no matter how much I read (and I have been reading a lot, even on my supposed break from the internet, because it feels impossible to do otherwise) until my grandmother insists on turning that TV off so we can watch The Talk, during which my mom asks who every co-host is and we debate who amongst us knows the most celebrity gossip.
On the ride back to Metro North, we have to pull over because I feel sick, more than I usually feel in a car. I have a headache most of the rest of the day and night, which has finally started to fade after a lot of fresh air, coffee and food. But that phrase, those two words, "the children," haunt me. We all know which children she meant, of course, the ones who can't be comforted by dogs, or anyone, at this point, though I would love right now to believe that somewhere, somehow, they are, in even the most minute way. I think about them when I pass a little girl with the biggest grin on her face getting kisses and love from what I think is a family member. I think about them when I address a holiday card to Sandy Hook and drop it in the mail. I think about them when I think about the children I owe holiday gifts to and wonder what to get. I think about them when I realize that more than trips to Charlotte or London or South Korea or Toronto, I'm excited about being asked to babysit during a weekend wedding in Pennsylvania, for a baby who will be two months old. I have presents for him at home, and am eager to give them to my friend, to put them alongside the adorable outfit she has waiting for him.
I think about how much she loves him, already, and how much I do too. I think about how I hope I can be a positive presence in his life, and his mom's. I think about how much courage it takes to bring a child into this world knowing that there's no way you can ever fully protect them, and wonder if I in any way will ever have that courage. I think about how after 9/11 that phrase "or the terrorists have won" was thrown around about almost everything. If we don't take the subway or go about our normal routines, the terrorists will have won. I think about how true that is, and also the fact that, to those we've lost, children and adults, they already have.