The horrifying events in Connecticut were breaking as we waited to board our plane to Las Vegas. We were headed there to celebrate forty years of love, friendship, family, and community with those who hold special places in our hearts. We were going to reconnect with people we haven't seen for decades: old college friends, family, people we met along the way and who managed to stay connected even though our paths took us all over the planet. We went to celebrate old and new weddings, friendships formed in one place and finished growing in another. We went to share the gift of our love for each other with our friends and family who never met before, or who attended one of our long ago weddings, or who sat in college classes with us, or who lived in communal households during our formative and idealistic years. We went, more than anything else, to share the profound and deep love we've built together as a community. It was our gift to each other, our gift to those we loved and cherished the most.
And all over the country as we waited to board for one common destination, a horrible tragedy was unfolding. I know I wasn't the only one trying to block it out. The sound was off on the airport screens, but the images were impossible to shut out. Grief has a way of cutting through the silence, and even brief involuntary glances at the faces let us know this was a grief beyond words. It was a horror unimaginable to those of us in that waiting room together. It was the complete opposite of the reality we were living in, the life of tolerance, and love, and hope, and common dreams built and shared over decades of love and friendship.
And yet, we blocked as much of it out as possible. We were on our way to a different reality and topics such as death, dying, and tragedy were personalized to something we could take in wound by wound, sadness by sadness. There was an awareness of those in our lives who would not be there to share in this amazing adventure months in the planning. The dead had faces we knew, people we'd loved and said goodbye to in the last few years, some as recently as weeks before. We'd already shed tears for them before boarding the plane because they weren't able to board with us. To cry for strangers would have opened our own personal wounds again and we already put them on hold for the weekend.
We were also aware of the short time many of our group have left on this planet, us included. The youngest of us all have gray hair and gravity has definitely won. For some of us, it was clear that time was something we called "now or never." For every year we put this off, our group of friends and family would grow smaller. Mortality sort of creeps up on us. One day we think we have forever, and then so quickly we look in the mirror and see that forever has a shelf live and we're on the losing end of it.
As a group we have survived illnesses that would have killed the less strong. We are the ones left, the ones who get up from the chair more slowly and ache after a hike or a stroll through adult Disneyland. We are medicated, creaky, and definitely dancing on borrowed time. It's why events such as ours are so important. We are so aware they are now or never events and we hold them close to our hearts.
But the families who lost so much in that awful tragedy, they were in their forever times of life. They sent their children off to school as they did every morning and had no reason to believe they wouldn't do the same next day and the days after for many years to come. They were parents who were giving their children a childhood, a memory to take forever into adulthood that would form the basic of bonds to come in later years.
We had that. No matter how horrible and dysfunctional our personal childhoods, we didn't fear someone coming to our schools and killing us. That was the only place we felt safe. It was a refuge. The teachers were our adult protectors. It is unimaginable to us as adults who grew up in that time, to think of our schools in any other way.
And yet, there's a whole generation of children who have grown up not feeling that sense of security, that safe place of our childhood. The first school shooting students are now adults and it has happened so much that we now have several generations of children who don't believe they are safe at school. Sonja, one of the cherished friends who spent the weekend with us at our adult slumber party, returned home to her kids and I'm sure hugged them closer and tighter than ever before, and then she described how the world has changed in this very succinct and poignant way:
"I just demonstrated to my children what one does if one hears gunshots, and made them demonstrate what they had learned. I then gave them several boxes of Lego and instructed them to resume their childhood. I proceeded to the bathroom to cry until I barfed."
I can't imagine the grief of those parents. I have wept many tears at the loss of friends, but they were ill and their deaths were not unexpected, or they died in accidents after much of their lives were already lived. But when a group of children are murdered in such a horrible way, whether it is in war, or disaster, or murder, we lose a piece of our hope in the meaning of forever. We shut down a piece of ourselves that dares to dream of a better world, a safer and more tolerant planet, a more loving and sane humanity.
That is why it is so important to have weekends like we did where there was so much love that everyone who walked into that room was wrapped and cradled in it. It is the only way to fight back. As my young cousin Anna's shirt said: Love is the answer. We must fight back with love because that is the only power than means anything. We must fight back with tolerance because that is how we measure our personal worth as human beings. We must fight back with joy and happiness and acceptance of each other as imperfect and frail creatures doing our best to pass through this life with honor and integrity and a sense of fairness.
I really don't know how we can stop hurting each other, how we can stop killing each other. I have no answers for that. But I do know if each of us makes time to spend a weekend together with those we cherish the most, if we combine the best of our friends and family together in one place and share our love for each other without holding back, without expecting anything in return, without holding on to old wounds and stupid misunderstandings, then we create a force that can fight evil as one unified beam of love.
So send out those emails, make those calls, post it on Faceborg, tweet it until your fingers ache, but start planning your own weekend with each other. Don't tie it in with the holidays. Make it its own holiday. Celebrate being alive and loved and then take that feeling forward and help make a better world, because if we don't, then who will?