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CandleYesterday, when I heard the news about the shootings that took place in Newtown, Connecticut, I could not even think about it for some time. Words usually come easily for me but not this time. I suppose I’m still in shock about what happened and I know for a fact that I am angry at the senselessness of it all.

We grow up with knowledge that life can change at a moment’s notice and we are taught that life is fragile and can end in an instant but we never acknowledge that reality quite as much as when we are faced with a tragedy as inconceivable as this one. For hours yesterday, details unfolded about what had happened, rumors flew, unconfirmed reports were issued and later, contradicted but one thing was certain-an obviously troubled young man walked into an elementary school and apparently without the slightest hint of remorse, shot and killed twenty-six people, most of whom were small children.

All of the victims were shot with a rifle, some of them up close, and all of them were apparently shot more than once according to local officials. All six adults killed at the school were women. Of the 20 children, eight were boys and 12 were girls. All the children were 6 or 7 years old.

How many of us who are parents of small children did not, for just a moment, try to imagine ourselves in the place of those parents who had lost children? Likely not many. Who could possibly put themselves there, except the people who have been through that. It’s a place I don’t ever want to be and I hope no one else ever has to be either.

Just the night before this happened, my wife and I attended the elementary school Christmas program at our son’s school. We, along with many other parents enjoyed spending time watching all of our children, from the 3 year olds to the 10 year olds, perform songs and tell the story of Christmas. Happy children, full of the wonder of Christmas and the innocence of their age, performing for their parents and grandparents. This horrific and tragic event could have just as easily happened at our school or any other school in the country. The fact that it didn’t changes nothing about the tragedy of it.

The children of Newtown were likely, at that same time Thursday evening, performing the rituals of their evenings while thinking of Santa Claus and the coming of Christmas, anxiously awaiting the end of the school term and the beginning of their holidays. Their lives were going along normally like the lives of most children of that age. Hours later, everything changed.

Twenty children will be laid to rest next week, mourned by their parents and by people who never knew them, all over the country. Many more survived but their lives will never be the same. The joy of Christmas, the innocence of youth and the wide-eyed wonder of the world around them has been shattered and except for possibly the very youngest of them, the events of December 14, 2012 will likely stay with them from now on.

As a nation, our struggles are tremendous and the things that impact it each day are great but to a small town in Connecticut, their struggle will just be getting through the days ahead and the weeks and months to follow. Both those whose children died and those whose children survived will be faced with emotions that most of us cannot comprehend, from overwhelming grief to insatiable anger and bitterness. Some of the teachers who survived, faced with the loss of friends and colleagues, as well as children they had helped to shape and mold will likely never teach again. Lives will be changed and the impact will be felt for multiple generations.

The greatest tragedy in all of this is the futures that will never be fulfilled by the young lives that were cut way too short. Their voices have been silenced and cut short far too soon but they remind us of one lesson we should all carry with us…to love our children and to cherish them. They aren’t just given to us to raise but to love and to care for. I hugged my child for a long time last night and I know a lot of parents all over the country did the same thing. If we take nothing from this but to be reminded to show our children that we love them and cherish them or to remind us to love and cherish others then maybe those children have in fact given to each of us a remarkable gift.

It is my greatest hope and prayer that all who are suffering from this…. the children who survived, the parents who lost children and those who didn’t, the families of the teachers who died, the citizens of the Newtown, the public safety workers who have had to deal with the aftermath and all those who will come to help and provide solace in the weeks to come will find strength, hope and love to sustain them and that God will watch over them all.