There was so much joy and anticipation in the air. And then Laurent showed up, took his seat beside me, and with a strange expression on his face stated simply, “I just heard this on the car radio. A gunman got into an elementary school in Connecticut and shot some teachers and their kindergarten students. Many are dead.” In that one moment, the color and joy seemed to drain away from the gymnasium. It was as though everything was now sepia-toned. I felt numb.
On some level, the concert was still enjoyable, but the deep concern for the events of that morning kept coming to thought. As a parent, how could I ever survive such a thing? What, if anything, could I do to alleviate some of the pain and fear that would no doubt be on my children’s minds as the details of the story unfolded? Were my children really safe at school? Was there still a way to protect and preserve a sense of innocence for their childhood experience?
I decided to focus, as best I could, on the innocence and purity I saw expressed in the various performances. As the kindergarteners rattled unto the raisers and shrilled “Hello, how are you?” in different languages, holding up cards that read “Bonjour” and “Ni hao” for audience approval, I felt that palpable sense of innocence, that ability to represent a world that knows peace and tolerance and joy.
When Madeleine and the other second graders trooped in wearing homemade construction paper Kwanzaa crowns, I could feel the tears welling up. There she stood, proudly joining in with the song’s hand gestures and doing a yeoman’s job at lip-synching the unfamiliar words, happy as a lark and the picture of innocence. Soon after, the fifth graders took to the aisles, dancing in circles to the melancholy strains of “Lotsa Latkes.” Grace would never have been mistaken for a Jewish lass, even with the long dark skirt and shawl, but she did manage to hold hands briefly with several of the fifth grade boys and demonstrate a certain seriousness of purpose.