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Professional Opinion

Sandy Hook: One year later

Why we won’t be around for the “anniversary” of a tragedy

When you drive the winding, wooded roads of Sandy Hook, Conn., the reminders of what happened here on Dec. 14, 2012, are everywhere.

One family lights 26 candles every night, having done so, without fail, since that tragic day. Another yard sports a large number 26 in paving stones, easily visible to passers by. Across the street from the volunteer fire house, to which our children were evacuated after being freed from the school, stands a green sign covered in 26 crosses.

Throughout town, you find multicolored ribbons hanging from street signs and utility poles where friends and family also have hung balloons in celebration of the birthdays of the lost that have gone by since. Often, those birthdays are marked by special events, media interviews and articles, and other acknowledgements.

There is always a reminder of that day close at hand here in Sandy Hook, and that is something we have all had to learn to live with in our own way.

As with all things, time lessens the impact and spreads out the reminders in manageable intervals—at least so far. Yet something looms on the horizon and it threatens to turn what has become a trickle of reminders into a tsunami.

Anniversaries are important for people. We contextualize the events of our lives, good and bad, along the cycle of years. Since the first human ancestor scrawled the first calendar on a cave wall, we have held the passage of a discrete unit of time in the utmost regard.

As time goes on, the interval between notable anniversaries lengthens: five years, then 10, 25, and 50. These reprieves only come, however, after we endure that first anniversary—the ubiquitous and encompassing and inescapable one-year mark. No birthday is more joyous than the first, no wedding anniversary more affirming, and no tragic anniversary more painful.

Storm brewing

Dec. 14, 2013, marks the one-year anniversary of the terror and tragedy we experienced in Sandy Hook, Conn.; one year since we stood in that parking lot waiting for our children to emerge safely, one year since we listened in horror as the true scope of it was revealed to us, one year since our hearts broke with our friends and neighbors who lost their beloved children and family members.

It will also be a year since most of us experienced for the first time the crush of the media—the seemingly relentless stare of the camera and the ubiquitous presence of reporters. Although the love and support and generosity of the world would follow, on that first day, the world that focused on us was a horrified onlooker.

As that anniversary approaches, it feels like a storm is brewing. Activist groups on all sides begin planning special commemorative events to urge on their own agendas. Reporters and bloggers write their first drafts of retrospectives and year-in-review columns. Television producers are surely putting together teams to scour the past year for voices and images that will flood the morning and evening news shows that day.

Meanwhile, we, the people who live here and drive by those signs, candles, and balloons every day, brace for impact.

It was that feeling of inevitability, of waiting for the wave to hit, that caused my family and me to stop for a moment and realize: we did not want to be here for that anniversary.

I do not begrudge the media their retrospectives or the people around the world—who gave us so much love and felt our pain so close to their hearts—their vigils and remembrances. I do not even blame the activists and politicians who believe what happened here should serve as a call to action, whatever action they wish to take. I understand their need to remember and to remind.

Joyous excursion

But because we remember it every day, are reminded every day, we, as a family, decided that Sandy Hook is not the place for us or our children on Dec. 14, 2013.

Instead, a group of us—we number more than 30 now, grandparents included—will be taking our children on a short but joyous holiday excursion that weekend. We’ll fill their bellies with hot cocoa and laughter, and our hearts with images of our children playing and loving life.

Because, in the end, that is what Dec. 14 means to us now: Life is so fragile and so uncertain that we must take every moment to embrace those that we love, and take joy in life and waste not one breath or tear on bitter memories.

Ian Eller’s two children attend Sandy Hook Elementary School. His wife, Rebecca, is the art director for District Administration magazine.