I’m not often in the company of children. With none of my own, there are no young adults, or teens, or little ones wandering around the house. As a writer, I’m usually home alone. When I’m out of the house, it’s most often with purpose: shop for groceries, fill the gas tank, mail a package.
Yesterday I accompanied my good friend Lynne to Troy, New York. We left early in the morning, before sunrise, drove north to the Massachusetts Turnpike and headed west, past Sturbridge and Stockbridge and up into New York, where Lynne’s brilliant and beautiful daughter Olivia was appearing in a musical production of “Willy Wonka” at Russell Sage College, where she is a junior. What fun! A road trip with my girlfriend, a chance to see her very talented child onstage with others from the college and community.
It was a matinée performance, and we adults were in the minority as the theatre filled with 694 children from area elementary schools. From my seat in the balcony’s front row, I watched the little ones march in and fill seat after seat; even the balcony seats behind us filled up with kids. They chattered and giggled and bounced with anticipation. The show did not disappoint. You know the story, it’s every kid’s dream: a chocolate factory, the chance of finding a golden ticket entitling the winner to a lifetime supply of chocolate. The children shrieked with laughter when a couple of the characters burped (intentionally). Kids love stuff like that.
After the show ended, the student actors stayed around to greet the children. When it was time for them to board the yellow buses, they marched out of the theatre. I stood against a wall and smiled at the sight of them: Catholic school kids in uniforms, bundled up in puffy coats, scarves, hats for a chilly December day, oblivious to the tragedy that had unfolded hours earlier. None of us knew about it yet.
It wasn’t until Lynne and I were driving back, heading east on the Mass Pike. We pulled in to a rest stop and she overheard someone talking about a mass shooting. We tried to pick up something on the radio, on our phones, but it wasn’t until we were nearly back in Rhode Island that we learned the details, which continue to emerge.
A morning filled with the exuberant laughter of innocent children – I will try to remember that when the darkness of the day’s memories creeps in.