At times, the juxtaposition of information makes it all the more poignant.
In December five years ago I wasn’t employed by The Gazette, but by another local company that had a large on-site corporate cafeteria, complete with large screen televisions. I was sitting in that cafeteria as co-workers put the finishing touches on an upcoming holiday celebration. Each year the company invited employees to bring their children into the facility, where Santa presented each one with a personalized gift.
That day, the children’s gifts had all been wrapped and tagged and a final count was underway. One worker read the children’s’ names from a list while others searched out the gift and, once found, placed it in a different pile. The name was checked off the list to ensure no one had been forgotten.
Of all the “perks” offered in this slice of corporate America, the inclusion of employees’ families in holiday celebrations was my favorite. So I was contentedly eating a sandwich while surreptitiously soaking in the happiness that seems to always surround people who know they are doing something generous and kind for another person.
I don’t remember who turned on the nearby television — it might have been on the entire time. I don’t know whether it already had been tuned to one of the cable news shows or if the channel was purposefully changed. Confusion was my first response as I realized I was hearing not one but two lists of children’s names. Laughter and names I immediately recognized floated in from my left as holiday gifts were found and organized. To my right, someone on television was reading a list of less familiar names.
Chase Kowalski … Daniel Barden … Grace McDonnell … Josephine Gay … Allison Wyatt … Ana Marquez-Greene … Avielle Richman … Benjamin Wheeler … Caroline Previdi … Catherine Hubbard … Charlotte Bacon … Dylan Hockley … Emilie Parker … Jack Pinto … James Mattioli … Jesse Lewis … Jessica Rekos … Madeleine Hsu … Noah Pozner … Olivia Engel
They are the 20 children, ages 6 and 7, who lost their lives in a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. on Dec. 14, 2012. And sitting in that corporate cafeteria, pressed uncomfortably and inextricably between those two very different lists, I set my lunch aside and sobbed.
The fifth anniversary of that horrible shooting — still the nation’s deadliest at an elementary school, and fourth deadliest overall — takes place next month. Iowans for Gun Safety is marking the date by showing the documentary “Newtown” at the downtown Cedar Rapids Public Library. The film focuses on the community’s reaction in the days and weeks following the senseless loss of 26 lives — six educators and the 20 children listed above. (At a different location, the gunman’s mother was also shot and killed.) Because the community moved through a range of emotions in the aftermath, the documentary is not recommended for children. A community discussion will follow the 5:45 p.m. screening.
Many of my former co-workers’ children have aged out of festivities that include accepting a gift from Santa. The children of Newtown, and their families, were robbed of that luxury. Not one of them should be forgotten.
This column by Lynda Waddington originally published in The Gazette on Nov. 29, 2017. Photo credit: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters