A Week Later–Reflecting on Newtown

The world is supposed to end today at 11:11 Central time.  But in some ways it feels like it ended last Friday.  I usually reserve this space for photography and business stuff, but sometimes I write about what’s on my mind. And Newtown has been on my mind all week. This tragedy marks the end of the weirdest few months that I have ever experienced. A lot of bad things have happened–the neighborhood murder in October of two innocent children stabbed to death by their nanny, then the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, and now this, the most unbelievable event of all.

I teach architecture to elementary students in my free time, and on Tuesday I visited two second grade classrooms.  Security was tighter than usual to get into this NYC public school, but otherwise the kids seemed the same.  “Do they know?” I asked their teacher.  “Only two, and they don’t know very many details,” she answered.  As I sat there, calling on students who were glued to their rug spots and eagerly shouting out what they remembered from our recent walking tour, my eyes darted around the room, wondering where they would hide if a Newtown scenario occurred.  The first classroom had a pretty large supply closet.  I immediately thought of heroic Victoria Soto trying to usher her kids into a closet, or Kaitlin Roig successfully squeezing her class of 15 into a bathroom to hide. But the class I was teaching had 28 students.  That would never work, I thought to myself.  In the second classroom there was not one place to hide, not even behind a bookcase.  It’s crazy that I was sitting there imagining escape scenarios in case a gunman burst into the classroom.  Irrational? Yes. But that’s how major December 14th was.

It was hard to focus as I looked at these children’s faces; I knew that some were the same age as those who were killed last Friday…and the same age as my niece and nephew. If you have ever worked with 1st or 2nd graders, you know that they are so EXCITED about everything.  They take interest in a subject in a heartbeat and are quick to smile, hug, and laugh.  It’s a cliche, but they really are little sponges.  Over the course of our program, I teach this age group 14 vocabulary words, 8 different building materials, and numerous facts about New York City.  A week after my first visit, I’m always amazed that they still remember everything to a T. In fact, when we rounded a corner last week on 80th and Lexington and they spotted gargoyles for the first time, they were literally jumping up and down, clapping and pointing.  Then I remember the 20 children in Newtown, and think about them being gunned down at this wonderful, eager, joyful age.   It’s just not right.  It doesn’t make sense.  Though my daughter isn’t close to six, I related to an article, What Six Looks Like, and thought it was a really beautiful way to describe the joys, frustrations, and wonders of this age for parents, children, and teachers alike. It relays why this tragedy hits so close to home and brings tears to so many.

One week later, we’re all still trying to make sense of this.  I continue to think a lot about the victim’s families and friends and wonder how they will survive the holidays without these vibrant, wonderful beings who were a prominent piece of the fabric of their family. I know we will all reflect a little more this holiday and hug our children or family members more than usual.  And somehow we will all find a way to move on; though in some way or another, we will carry a scar from December 14th.