It’s been seven years since the murder of 26 people, 20 of them children, in Newtown, Connecticut. Everything – and nothing – has changed in that time. Since the shootings in Newtown, I have helped to start a Moms Demand Action group in the town where I live. We will be holding a vigil on December 14 to remember the lives all those who died that day – and also everyone who has been killed or had their lives changed by gun violence in the time before and since those murders. I hope you’ll read this post and join me in remembering what happened. And if you’re looking for a way to get involved in the fight against gun violence, Moms Demand Action is a good place to start.
An event like the mass murders in Connecticut throws so much into question of course. We can ask how God let this happen, and for those of us with faith, that’s a fair question. But I’d rather ask how we let this happen. Why is it possible in the United States to legally own weapons that are meant only to destroy the living as ruthlessly and efficiently as possible? What need does any private citizen have to own these weapons and keep them at home? I feel newly committed to acting on my belief that no one should be able to inflict this kind of damage, both by giving money to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and by making my voice heard above the power and pressure and voices from organizations that would argue for more, not fewer, guns in our society. It’s time to commit to making this a priority.
But beyond the political, I feel the need today to address just what it is that I am doing here in my little corner of the Internet. How am I to continue writing about our travels on this site when there is so much suffering elsewhere? When children are gunned down in a town so like my own, in a school that would be so very familiar to me?
My answer in part, is to write about traveling with my family.
Matt, the boys, and I spent Friday night in Philadelphia on a planned pre-holiday family getaway. We were so very fortunate to stay in a beautiful hotel, full of cheerful spaces and lacking in public television sets, which made it possible to shield the boys from what had happened that morning. Our plans included a family concert with a performance of holiday songs by the band the The Polyphonic Spree, a gonzo, wonderful, and tremendously loud concert that included a trumpet, trombone, harp, and French horn, to say nothing of Santa, Mrs. Claus, elves, Rudolph, and Frosty.
Everything in that theatre was light and noise. We knew we were alive because the floor vibrated under our feet and up into our bodies and when the band launched into their version of “Happy Xmas (War is Over)” paper snow was released from the ceiling where it fell into Tommy’s upturned and smiling face.
The adults around me sang with tears and smiles on their faces simultaneously. We grabbed our children, sometimes against their wills, and held them close to our bodies. We sang until our throats hurt, until our hearts were broken and reassembled in our chests.
After the band finished its set, the children were invited onstage, and Teddy stood in the front of them, beaming like it was the moment he had been waiting for his entire life. The lead singer invited us all to join him in singing “Silent Night” which we did.
Teddy sang into the microphone for portions of the song, drawing out the “o’s” in the word “holy” as I’m sure the choir director at our church has taught him to do. Then we sang “Joy to the World” and red and green balloons were released over our heads and the room became a blur of joyful motion as we all batted balloons around to each other and up onto the stage.
When Teddy returned to us, he announced that they had told him he could keep his Santa hat.
Later that evening, when we had returned to the comfort of our hotel room and tucked the boys safely into a large warm bed, Matt and I climbed into the bed next to them and waited quietly until they both fell asleep (which didn’t take long – it was late). Then Matt turned to me and whispered, “Let’s just listen to them breathe.” And so we did until sleep finally came for us as well.
I write a family travel blog. My main goal is to inspire parents to leave the comfort and safety of their homes and share the world with their children, whether that world encompasses their neighborhood, their town, or a different continent. I want parents to do this for myriad reasons. Because when we leave our homes, we leave behind the web of possessions and accumulated to-dos and focus on spending time together. Because when we travel with our kids we show them how precious and interesting the world is and encourage them to think of preserving and making it better. Because we don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow, but when we look back at years of rich experience we won’t regret a single one.
I want parents to travel with their children even though the world – both small and large – contains unspeakable evil. Because I still believe that the evidence of beauty and joy and good is greater. And I also believe that the chance of loss is worth the risk. I write these words humbly, knowing what loss has been experienced by others. I write them publicly because I want them recorded for myself, for the future.
My children are not afraid, and I don’t want that to change. I want them to have a healthy respect for real danger and to know how to protect themselves and others as best as is possible from it. But I also want them to venture forth boldly, whatever the consequences. And I want to have the courage to send them out to do so – whatever the consequences.
Our time here is limited, for some of us cruelly so. To me, being a parent and a traveler is about living fully in this world and enjoying its riches, while simultaneously staring into the face of the void and singing joy unto it. Because what else can we small, frail creatures do?