I keep a journal of what happens to me every day. Beginning on October 8, 2011, every night I have logged what’s happening in my life on the pages of my little blue journal. After two years of journaling, I’ve amassed a lovely collection of memories. Reflecting back on the same day a year ago (or even two years ago) puts many things in perspective.
I have always been a journaler. I fell in love with the romantic notion of the diary from my earliest days of reading books about other young girls like Harriet the Spy and their diaries. I picked out my first diary on my first trip to FAO Schwartz with my parents when I was seven. Hello Kitty graced the cover and there was a little lock and key that I thought was so special and private. At various points in my life, the journal has served a different purpose. For a while it was a place to write down how I was feeling. In the Oprah era of happiness journals, I jotted down things for which I was grateful. As an adult, I kept a travel journal with a detailed itinerary for trips I’d taken.
I have revisited many of these journals to smile or laugh at my earlier version of my myself. As the older version of myself, I’ve been lucky to log reflections on some major events in my own life and in history like the story of my mother’s passing or my account of September 11th. Time has passed since both of those days and in that passage of time, there is an easing of pain and stress that I felt around those very disconcerting, confusing, and painful moments.
Newtown was different, though.
The day of the Sandy Hook shooting held in its violent wake all of the makings of a deeply personal tragedy and a grand historical event. Perhaps it was because I live geographically close to Newtown, or perhaps it is because I have small children, but looking back at December 14th and the weeks that followed, the pain of the day hung in the air.
I was in the middle of managing a day of student presentations at the local college where I teach. Because I was not plugged into any social media, I did not hear the morning’s news until late in the afternoon and even then, I could hardly process the information. My head spun thinking about my own small children at their childcare center fifteen minutes away. Were they safe? I could not leave what I was doing–could my husband collect them? I remember racing in and grabbing them up, staring at other bewildered and shocked parents.
We were less than an hour away from Sandy Hook Elementary School. In the days that followed, as a Connecticut resident, I felt inundated by the news coverage. And I couldn’t stop watching the new cycle on rinse repeat with limited details and the same photographs flashing on the screen. I thought about the children and their parents. I thought about the teachers. My heart truly ached for people I had never met, knowing how much hurt they carried in their own hearts. Looking at my feelings in my journal one year later, I remember how painful it felt to see a large group of small children playing together. Just the day after the shootings, I took my daughter to a birthday party and as I watched a big group of children play, I thought to myself, it could have been these kids.
The only thing I felt like I could do was to write something for them. On grief and Newtown was as much an essay for myself as it was for others who have suffered some kind of traumatic loss in their lives. After I published it, I received messages from friends and readers, thanking me for capturing the palpable anger, depression, and frustration involved in the trauma recovery process. When I wrote it, I remember those earliest days of my own grief and I could only begin to imagine even a year later how intrusive the victims’ families felt in the days and months following their tragic loss. Calm waters want to stay calm and the constant intrusion from the media made ripples in their world.
From the accounts of grief and recovery that I’ve read in the media over the last week or so, I am so inspired by the Newtown community. Families that have lost children and siblings and parents have rallied around one another, they have shared their stories and they have forgiven. They are working for justice in their own community and fighting for safety for all communities on a local and national stage. I wish only for peace in those families, because the difference one year makes might be small.
One year later, I feel no more safe, no more immune to potential tragedy. I simply feel calmer for them. And I know that each year, because of the nature of the event, the news media is going to dredge up the bottom, creating its own current of information and judgment, moving those calm waters around people who are making it through life day by day, hour by hour, for themselves, for their families and for their community.
Listening to these brave families, working through their grief, repairing themselves and their community, I am wholly inspired. Over the weekend, though, I simply retreated. I unplugged and spent time with my own family. Our daughters make everything different in our lives. Trauma hits harder and violence cuts deeper. But if there is anything I’ve learned from debilitating grief, we have to take one day at a time and appreciate what we have.
And if you have any extra time, find ways to preserve those moments. Write it down, record voice memos, snap pictures. You’ll thank yourself a year from now.