When I see that now-famous photo of the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School gripping each other’s shoulders, I see my 5-year-old daughter.
I see her terrified. I see her brave. I see her not entirely sure what’s going on but keen enough to know something is wrong.
I see her in all the faces in that photo.
I see her in the other photos I’ve seen. I see her being carried away by a parent, with arms wrapped around her so tight as if they’ll never let go. I see her standing with her classmates surrounded by police cars and ambulances.
When I hear stories about children being told to shield their eyes and look away as they pass a classroom or make their way down a hallway, I see my daughter’s little hand averting her little eyes.
I see her being tucked away in a closet or a cabinet by an alert teacher, or ducking behind a desk.
I see her when I think of those who didn’t make it out of that school. I try not to, but I do, and an incredible sense of sadness overcomes me in a way I’ve never felt before.
It’s sadness for the parents, brothers, sisters, friends and loved ones in Newtown, whose lives will never be the same. It’s sadness knowing the lives of those 26 victims, especially those 20 children, were torn from this world far, far too soon.
It’s sadness for all those other families who have to somehow explain to their children, the survivors, what happened to their friends or teachers. Or why it happened.
It’s sadness knowing that even as a father, I might not always be able to be there to protect my children. And it’s sadness not being able to understand what has become of the world we live in.
The sadness is only lessened slightly when I think those 26 victims are in a better place, where angels are allowed to be just that, and in selfishly knowing that I am fortunate enough to have seen my daughter today.
Not in some image that has been burned into my mind, but I saw her when she stumbled out of her bedroom in her pajamas this morning. I saw her eat her breakfast and brush her teeth. I saw her, and her classmates, line up for what one can only hope will be just another day at school.
And I pray to God that I’ll see her when school is through, today, and every day.