Now we witness a regiment of the wounded, the survivors, burying a whole company of the young dead in a small New England town filled with a grief that simply cannot be measured.
Monday’s dead babies were Jack Pinto and Noah Pozner, both 6 years old. Tuesday’s funerals saw James Mattioli and Jessica Rekos, again, only 6, their small coffins shocking to the senses, carried through the chill mist to graves one week before Christmas and mere hours after the conclusion of Hanukkah.
The week ahead will witness 16 additional sets of services for the youngest of victims claimed by the madness that occurred Friday in Connecticut. The murders go in the books alongside all the other historical tombstones of mass homicide that have taken place in a country, our country, where it is easier to buy an assault rifle than it is to get an appointment with a psychiatrist: Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora, Newtown.
However, this time is different. This time the shock, horror and revulsion will be more permanent, have more enduring impact because of three numbers:
The numbers, of course, represent the body count of tiny casualties and their ages. And the impact on the nation’s soul is obvious to anyone who has ever raised a child: Walk a 6-year-old son or daughter to a school bus stop early in the morning while holding their hand and you recall the touch forever.
Look around at home and you will find pictures of your 7-year-old in a Little League uniform, your 6-year-old wearing a ballerina’s dress, smiling a toothless grin. These are the freeze frames of the emotional portion of lives normal people live, average lives distant from the politics and cable chatter, texting and tweeting that consumes so many among us, most of it granted unwarranted importance.
This time, homicide came for our children. It blasted through a schoolroom door, instantly claimed five teachers and a principal who had more courage facing a real rifle than many public people have when confronting a gun lobby. It then turned left and instantly emptied a clip into the youngest, most innocent among us, first grade kids.
So now those numbers — 20, 6, 7 — will perhaps finally force the president and politicians in Congress to give America a small element of common sense, a defense against insanity: a law that makes it impossible to purchase — across a counter, at a gun show or online — a weapon made for war from a store located in a shopping mall.
So now, with another year rushing toward the finish line, the whole country carries the weight of sadness contained in all the small caskets of Newtown.
Few things are more satisfying to adults than the sight and sound of a child’s laughter and gleeful grins of anticipation provoked by a season of joy. Yet on a day when the sky was a gloomy gray, a single village was consumed with the terrible task ahead of burying 16 more children whose happiest moments are now a memory.
Barnicle is a print and broadcast journalist.