Note: Today marks the fourth anniversary of the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., which took 27 lives.
I wrote this column when I was executive editor at the Pocono Record in Stroudsburg, Pa. It appeared in the paper on Dec. 27, 2012.
Weeks before the mass murders made Newtown, Conn., a household name, we had planned to spend Christmas Day with a friend there.
She had recently finished months of chemotherapy and radiation and we thought it a good idea to visit. Then the shootings happened and suddenly our plans to go to Connecticut took on a different meaning.
The visit became more of a mission trip: I had a calling to do something since we would be within five minutes of Sandy Hook.
My wife, son Daniel and I brought the makings of a hearty kale soup, dessert and pick-ons and spent a relaxing, affable afternoon with our friend and her cat, Joey.
I had packed a small tin of homemade cookies that I had decided I would give to whatever poor flatfoot had to work sentry duty on Christmas Day in downtown Sandy Hook.
Against the enormity of what had happened there, this would be the merest of gestures. But it felt like a tangible offering that might say something to a stranger for a moment.
After we left our friend’s, we stopped at a makeshift shrine/memorial housed in a large white tent off I-84’s Exit 10.
Just across from the Newtown Diner, the memorial was unmistakably marked by a huge American flag hanging from a bucket truck.
Meg opted to stay in the car with Dan.
I went in. I was tentative.
A friendly young man wearing an ID tag around his neck assured me it was OK to go in, that it was a place to meditate, to pray or just observe.
Inside, piled high were collections of flowers and stuffed animals. Large white posters were available to sign. A wave of grief struck me with such ferocity, it literally left me breathless.
I signed a card and scanned the displays, my eyes looking but not really seeing.
We then drove into downtown Sandy Hook. There were few Christmas lights in Newtown, but only a mile down the road, we came on an oasis of light.
Candles, notes, stuffed animals, cards and flowers over-filled the width and length of sidewalks of Sandy Hook’s downtown.
I had not seen anything like it or felt anything as powerful since a visit to Ground Zero on Sept. 25, 2001.
Live Christmas music filled the quiet street. A young man, oblivious to the cold, played a piano perched outside a storefront.
It was a scene both surreal and comforting.
And there they were: Two cops bundled against the cold wearing reflective vests, keeping an eye on traffic and visitors.
Overwhelmed, Meg opted again to stay in the car. To my admiration, my 14-year-old son flanked me, carrying the tin of cookies, as we approached the cops.
I tried to talk but, overcome by emotion, my voice cracked like a boy going through puberty.
They at first demurred when we offered the cookies, but when we said we had come from Pennsylvania, one of their faces lit up.
Where in Pennsylvania, one asked. The Poconos. Oh, he said, beautiful country. I ran a marathon there this summer and golfed there.
They graciously accepted our humble offerings, his partner taking the tin to a nearby patrol car.
Taking off his glove, the Pocono marathoner offered a warm handshake and wished us a Merry Christmas.
Maybe those cops were not exactly the shepherds tending their flock, and we were not exactly the three kings bringing gifts, but in the overwhelming darkness that had befallen us all, Sandy Hook on Christmas night offered me a glimmer of light and the promise of hope.
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