A lesson too hard, too soon

The reality begins to take hold of this Sandy Hook Elementary student after the shooting today. Michelle McIoughlin (Reuters)

The horrific reality begins to take hold of this Sandy Hook Elementary School student outside the school today after the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. Michelle McIoughlin (Reuters)

“The sun is out today.”

My mother always used those same words as she stepped in between the sitting or prone bodies of me and my brothers on the floor of the family room on many Saturday mornings. We were spread out in front of the TV, all set for a morning full of cartoons. But whenever I heard those words, it also meant that she was making her way to that TV and about to hit the off button.

“The sun is out today. It’s too nice outside for all of you to be in here,” she always said. “Now, go outside and find something to do. Out, out, out!”

And out we’d go, reluctantly, for another day of playing. Goofing around. Getting into trouble. Getting out of trouble. All in all, just being kids.

It wasn’t so bad. Not as good as a slew of Bugs Bunny cartoons, but not so bad. We didn’t sweat it. Heck, life is pretty simple when you’re just a 6-, 8- or  9-nine-year-old, which at some point during our collective childhoods was how old we would have been.

That’s the way life is, when you’re one of those ages. Pretty simple.

“The sun is out today.”

Those words came into my mind again a few hours ago. Over and over. The sun was out at that moment. I was sitting in my truck, in the parking lot outside of my office. Taking a break from work. I’d just turned the key, and turned up the radio. I keep it tuned to the local public broadcasting station. I was expecting to listen in on whatever heady, wordy talk show was being broadcast at that time.

Instead, I heard the station’s news reporters talking. Live coverage. That could only mean one thing – bad news. Very bad news. News so big that it had knocked off the regular programming. Or news really close, somewhere in my home state of Connecticut.

It was both.

At that moment, all the reporters could report was someone had walked into an elementary school – kindergarten through 4th-grade – and started shooting. According to an anonymous source, the reporter said he’d been told there were up to 28 dead. And at least 18 of them … were children.

The story would become clearer, in time. There were 28 dead, that was spot on. But 20, not 18, were children.

Students at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Kindergarten through 4th-grade.

Including 6-, 8- and 9-year-olds.

“We were in my art teacher’s room. We heard some gunshots, like 20. Then the police came with guns and told us to close our eyes.”

Fourth-grader Vanessa Bajraliu, 9 years old.

In another report, a father told of his six-year old son’s dramatic escape from a room after the gunman burst in and opened fire. Robert Licata said his son was in class when the killer burst in and shot the teacher.

“That’s when my son grabbed a bunch of his friends and ran out the door,” he said. “He was very brave. He waited for his friends.”

A hero. A boy. A 6-year-old.

At my age, you’ve learned long ago that life is not simple. It’s complicated. It can be very, very good. But it can be cruel too. Harsh and unforgiving. Infuriating and frustrating. And very, very painful. Not always, but that’s the way life often is.

At my age. Maybe yours too.

State police officers lead evacuated students from the school after the shooting. Shannon Hicks (Newtown Bee)

State police officers lead students away from the school after the shooting. Shannon Hicks (Newtown Bee)

But why did it have to be that way … for these kids?

“The sun is out today.”

That’s all life was for me when I was 6-, 8- and 9-years old.

And what did the kids at the Sandy Hook Elementary School learn today?

It isn’t that way for them.

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