Conjuring up images of some ancient ritual, approximately one hundred people braved the snow this past Saturday to come together to remember the children and adults who died in Newtown, Connecticut one year ago. We stood in a large circle as the lights went down and a single flame was passed, one to the other, as we each lit a candle in remembrance. Tears streaming down our faces, we tried to make sense of what had happened.
The vigil was held at the Central Presbyterian Church in Summit. I only knew one other person in the room, but the sense of community lay over us like a soft blanket. The program opened with the Children’s Choir of St. Teresa singing “This Little Light of Mine.” The beauty of their voices took my breath away. Their bright eyes and flushed cheeks brought life and innocence to the somber mood of the adults sitting in the audience.
The high vaulted ceiling of the church’s community room with the long red velvet curtains on the stage was the backdrop to this outpouring of love and bewilderment. In our hearts we were all trying to understand this horrific act of anger. “How do we wrench meaning from this tragedy?” asked Reverend Vanessa Southern.
One of the speakers was Union County Sheriff Ralph Froehlich who did not mince words. He opened with “I hate this subject,” and then went on to talk about assault rifles. “The assault rifle’s only function is to kill human beings. No one needs this kind of weapon. This killing machine. It’s not made to hunt, but to kill people,” he told the gathering. Although the vigil had been advertised, no elected officials had bothered to attend. No one with the power to pass gun control legislation was there.
Although a majority of the public favors banning assault weapons this is too much for our legislators to get done. Congress has done nothing. The New Jersey Legislature did pass a package of gun control measures but Governor Christie vetoed the centerpiece of the legislation which would have mandated instant background checks.
After the Sheriff spoke, William Edwards, a Vietnam vet came to the microphone. He spoke with a quiet dignity. He opened with, “Life is a sacred gift. Witnessing the act of killing destroys the human spirit.” He told us what he had seen in Vietnam and described his return, “I was safe but my soul and my spirit were lost.” He encouraged the people there to act. “That’s how change happens. One person at a time.”
Rabbi Avi Friedman introduced the next segment which was the reading of the names of the 20 children gunned down in a matter of minutes last December and the names of the six educators who died with them. The names were read by 7th graders from South Orange Middle School; their sweet young voices bringing the names to life, connecting each name with the young life that was gone. The Rabbi read out the names of the adults killed and included Adam Lanza, the shooter, and his mother. I know that Adam is reviled by many, but the Rabbi included him because, he too, is a victim. A victim of his life and the pain that life brought him.
Music rounded out the evening. Karen Egert of Westfield sang the song “Sweet Angel” which she composed and a recording of “My Beautiful Town” by the Newtown Youth Voices was played. The beauty of the words and the voices only bringing home to those of us there how much will be missed by those innocent children.
To close the program, Reverend Southern told of how the parents in Newtown are asking people to perform 26 acts of kindness in honor of their children. I will be trying, for the next 26 days, to do just that. A kind word. Patience. A donation of time or money.
As I left the church it was still snowing. The clean blast of cold air soothed my eyes, blurred and swollen from tears. The fresh air of the fallen snow smelled good after the oppressive gloom of the church. As I looked out over the field with a lighted Christmas tree in the distance, I cried anew at the snowmen not being built in Newtown this winter.
Ann Ormsby is a freelance writer. Her writings have been seen in The Newark Star-Ledger, The Huffington Post, njspotlight.com and hackwriters.com. "The Recovery Room," her debut novel, will be published later this month on Amazon.com.