I've never been able to dispel the memory of Dec. 1, 1956. Ninety-two children and three nuns died in a fire at Our Lady of the Angels Elementary School in Chicago. I was in the third grade, and time has not erased feelings of despondency and insecurity. I still see the pictures of the firemen carrying the lifeless bodies of the children. We prayed for their souls but, frankly, I had a hard time praying to a god who would allow children to suffer.
Years later, circumstances did not improve. In Vietnam I couldn't comprehend the senseless mutilation of children whose only crime was that American medical personnel had vaccinated them against measles. The Viet Cong cut their arms off. There were no prayers said, there was only retribution. The Marines would not defer this crime to God's judgment.
Our world is out of orbit and we are spinning toward a black hole of our own design.
On Dec. 14, the unconscionable happened again. Twenty little children and six teachers were murdered senselessly at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Conn. That evening I looked for reassurance, hoping to find peace amid the beautiful voices of the La Cañada High School Concert Choir. The director, Jeff Brookey, held back his tears as he asked for a moment of silence.
But what constitutes a moment in silence? Is it reflection? Respect for the innocents? Is it a passing moment whereby we rationalize the unbelievable? Do we search for peace?
I can only see blood and hatred for those who harm children. I know the path for finding peace, but I will not turn the other cheek. For me there is no peace. For God's sake — they were children!
Sentimentality and spirituality erode on days like this. How does one fathom the sensibilities of man? Where is the divine spark in the soul I learned of in Catholic school? It's Christmas and the children are gone. The Concert Choir sings “O Holy Night,” and I am left trying to answer the simple question, why?
The choir is marvelous and sings: “A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.” Where is this nirvana for the residents of Newtown? Will the parents of the children ever again experience such a morn?
The choir then reaches a crescendo, “O night divine, O night when Christ was born.” How do I sing to a God that I can not rationalize, a God that would allow the massacre of innocents? But yet I am lost in the music. Mr. Brookey directs a message of hope and once again the possibility of peace looms. I'm a sucker for peace. Aren't we all?
What drove me to St. Bede's the following Sunday? It wasn't faith. In the face of such horror we are driven to the cross and the resurrection of Christ. Maybe the reconciling power of Jesus is the only answer to such a depraved and diabolical act. Maybe Monsignor Antonio's message, “No matter how dark the moment, love and hope are always possible,” is the rationale. I have no answers, yet I sit in church.
I am sorry for the dismal thoughts during this season. But how can there be Christmas without these kids?
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his website at doctorjoe.us.