Friday morning, I picked out a cute outfit and fixed my hair, hoping to take a picture with SD in front of this tree in Eastman's Main Hall at the annual Holiday Sing. It's my favorite Eastman tradition and SD and I have been looking forward to it ever since we knew we'd be moving back here this year. I cleaned off my desk and admired our little Christmas tree. I printed a few handouts for my class presentation later in the day. I thought about giving myself a manicure over the weekend.
And then, I heard SD exclaim from the other room - "What?!" I rushed in to see what was wrong.
"There was a shooting at my elementary school," he said.
We watched in horror as the news reports rolled in and pictures of 1st graders being led to the nearby fire station flashed across the homepage of CNN, just one mile away from Steve's parents' house. "We were just there at Thanksgiving," I thought to myself. We were numb.
The closing song of the Holiday Sing, "Dona Nobis Pacem," sung in a 3-part round by all who are in attendance is normally our favorite part of the event. Now, standing in front of this beautiful tree, surrounded by the hundreds of people that had gathered in the Main Hall that morning, we contemplated the entirely new meaning of this text in the midst of such tragedy and heartache. I fought back tears as we sang:
Dona nobis pacem. Grant us peace.
Later in the day, we found out that most of the victims were children - twenty 6- and 7-year-olds - and my heart broke into a million pieces. Those families, those teachers, that community. Sandy Hook is an idyllic New England town and it's become somewhat of a home to me in the 4 1/2 years since SD and I started dating. That fire station they keep showing on the news? They have a lobsterfest in the summer and they sell Christmas trees and wreaths between Thanksgiving and Christmas. We pass it every time we come into town. Treadwell Park is where SD and I had a picnic lunch on my first visit to CT. That elementary school is where SD was assigned Georgia in the "parade of states" (it's the reason we danced to "Georgia On My Mind" at our wedding). He made a giant peach and wheeled it around in a little red wagon. It's where he first learned to play the saxophone. That auditorium where the vigil was held and where the President spoke? That's the stage where SD performed, soloed, and graduated. This is home.
There is no explanation for the events of last week. There are no answers. What can we do? We can pray, we can grieve with the rest of the nation, we can hold on to those close to us. We can live grateful lives. We can give to those in need (see here, here, here, and here for a place to start). Life is not the same.
How do we move on from such a tragedy? Leonard Bernstein once said, "This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before." Yes. As musicians, making music and sharing it with the community is a way that we can give back, a way to contribute meaning. This is the time of year that we sing hymns of faith and hope and peace; we sing of Joy coming into the world and we prepare our hearts anew for the coming of the Prince of Peace. So sing with passion, play with your whole heart, and lead with conviction. Focus on what matters. And in the midst of this overwhelming tragedy, may God grant us all peace.
Image Credit: personal