Editor’s note: Dec. 15 marks the fifth anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, in which 26 people — 20 children and six adults — were killed. We’re rerunning this piece in memory of the victims.
A weekend of shock and tears left me tired and sore. The loss of all those souls in Newtown cut deep, shattering any illusion I have about the safety of my own sweet child when I send him out alone into the world each day.
That such brutality could rain down so mightily on a place in which children should be safe chilled me. As I honored my holiday social engagements — a luncheon on Saturday, a dinner on Sunday — the slaughter was never far from my thoughts. As each Newtown story emerged of heroism and love — adults racing toward the evil, children huddling together for strength from the crazy — I cried some more.
But life’s responsibilities demanded I leave behind my tears, and I struggled to maintain my usually cheerful countenance on Monday.
I wasn’t successful.
A similarly paced day awaited me on Tuesday, and I wondered how I’d make it through.
Like most Tuesdays, I stopped at my favorite coffee shop for a latté-to-go, an indulgence that feeds two of my biggest needs: caffeine and social interaction. This morning, though, the usually buzzing coffee shop was unusually quiet.
“I’ve never seen this place like this,” said the customer ahead of me.
I shrugged it off. The intense grief, confusion and helplessness over Newtown shrouded us all, it seemed.
Then a man walked in with a little girl who appeared to be 5 or 6.
I was immediately mesmerized by the little girl’s shoes: magnificently multi-colored, bejeweled sneakers, the front toes of which flashed when she walked, sparkling punctuation marks for skinny legs in colorfully striped tights.
Like a cool drizzle on a scorching summer day, the joy of this child’s being magically lifted my sadness.
“I love your shoes!” I said to her. “If you were tap dancing, you’d light up the whole room.”
She smiled and shyly moved her feet a bit, making her feet light up like tiny pinball machines.
“If those shoes came in my size, I’d wear them all the time,” I said. “I almost always wear black, so I think they’d look really good on me, don’t you think?”
She smiled; her sneakers flashed again.
The man I took to be her dad told her she could have whatever she liked. So what else would a happy girl in sparkling shoes order?
“I’d like a cup of whipped cream,” she said.
The young woman behind the counter asked whether she’d also like some sprinkles.
The girl nodded yes as her shoes flashed.
“Oops,” the woman behind the counter laughed. “I accidentally put too many sprinkles on.”
The adults at the counter smiled, transfixed by this child who looked my way as she took her cup of sparkling whipped cream.
“These shoes come in big sizes,” she said. “I’ve seen them.”
“I have really big feet,” I said, “but I’ll shop for some online.”
I left, convinced an angel’s path had briefly crossed my own, bringing me a message of hope.
Then I spent my busy day pretending that my black walking shoes with orthopedic inserts lit up with every step I took.