Last Friday afternoon, I – like many of you – learned of the awful tragedy that had occured that morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. I got home that night, ready to study for the final that I just took this morning. But somehow, studying about epitaxial inorganic growth didn’t seem as important as calling Ryan, my 10-year-old brother, up on the phone that night.
“I’m about to watch a movie,” he hastily answered, clearly oblivious to the day’s events, continuing with his trademark “Whatchoowant?”
“Oh, you know, just wanted to say hi.”
“I miss you. I’m bored. Love ya, sis!”
“Love you, Ry.”
The next morning, I rolled my cello to Lobby 7, the area under the dome that serves as the unofficial entrance to MIT’s Infinite Cooridor. I met up with a handful of other MIT Symphony Orchestra friends, along with some musicians from the Brookline Symphony Orchestra, who had all assembled thanks to the idea of Adam Boyles, our director. Quoting Leonard Bernstein, Adam began the impromptu and somewhat makeshift memorial concert for the victims of the shooting by saying, “This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.” Tourists, passersby, students undoubtedly heading to the library to cram for finals – people who in any other circumstance would be hurrying on their way – all stopped to pay tribute to a community located a couple hours away.
Afterward, as I packed up my instrument, I saw a professor wiping away tears as she zipped up her toddler’s coat. “Thank you for doing this,” she softly spoke before zipping up her own. I managed to sputter in reply, “Of course,” before realizing that I had my own tears to wipe away. I’ve been so moved by the emotions I’ve seen in friends and mentors here in response to the tragedy, reflective of the compassion that connects friends and strangers alike. No amount of music or prayers or consolations, written or spoken, will ever be enough to even begin to bring peace to the families and all those affected by Friday’s events. I cannot start to imagine what they are experiencing now, and what they will continue to endure. My heart breaks for each and every one of them. But we offer these things up for them – the only things we could possibly give to the people of Newtown – because we are called to do so as brothers and sisters of this world and I hope that in some way, however miniscule, it will contribute to their healing.
A Mister Rogers quote has been circulating the internet these past couple days that I find particularly pertinent – “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers -– so many caring people in this world.”
I am in awe of the many unfathomably brave people whose selflessness towards protecting others will never be forgotten, along with the innocent and beautiful people who passed away. I am in awe of the grace, poise, and sense of community that Newtown as shown our country in light of inexplicable heartbreak. A profoundly awful tragedy merited a profoundly poignant response, a testament to the resilence of the human spirit and the goodness of many. I am in awe of the kindness of people like Adam, who, instinctively reached out to console others to their best capacity, and I am in awe of the many strangers who I saw that morning standing in solidarity with our neighbors. Being reminded of this compassion made me infinitely grateful to encounter such people in my life, and to share another day with the people I love. Tell these people – who I’m sure are also in your lives – that you love them. Every day is a gift, and every person is a gift. These are the things I will remember.
Friday’s events and the ensuing media chaos has initiated some conversations that our society desparately needs to be having. I am hopeful that this will be the start of our country’s movement toward creating a more understanding, peaceful, and fraternal one. But like Adam told me after I thanked him for organizing the memorial concert, “I’m so sorry it had to be under these circumstances.”
Adam closed our concert with this excerpt from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Eulogy for the Maryred Children,” which was delivered during the funeral services of three girls killed in the bombing of a Birmingham, AL church in 1963. Newtown, for what it’s worth, there is a community here mourning with you and for you.
Now I say to you in conclusion, life is hard, at times as hard as crucible steel. It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like the ever—flowing waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. Like the ever—changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters. And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him, and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.
And so today, you do not walk alone. You gave to this world wonderful children. They didn’t live long lives, but they lived meaningful lives. Their lives were distressingly small in quantity, but glowingly large in quality. And no greater tribute can be paid to you as parents, and no greater epitaph can come to them as children, than where they died and what they were doing when they died… And today, as I stand over the remains of these beautiful, darling girls, I paraphrase the words of Shakespeare: Good night, sweet princesses. Good night, those who symbolize a new day. And may the flight of angels take thee to thy eternal rest. God bless you.