There I stood, a third grade child onstage at the VFW hall, alone in the hot spotlight at the Christmas Concert for Alice Costello Elementary School in Brooklawn, New Jersey. My music teacher Mrs. Monihan looked up from the piano and began to play the introduction to Silent Night. I took a deep breath and began to sing the first verse, in the clear soprano voice that I inherited from my mother:
Silent Night, Holy Night, All is Calm, all is Bright….
As I sang the rest of the third grade class stood behind me and used ASL to sign the lyrics with their hands. The only sound was my voice over the microphone and the piano. Mrs. Monihan, our music teacher with perfectly coiffed hair and impeccable red nails, had chosen me to sing in front of the 1,000 or so folks that always packed her amazing Christmas concerts.
Holy Infant so tender and mild…..
Even at the tender age of 8 I had already sung this beautiful song countless times, my family attended the Methodist church in Brooklawn, the very same church that my parents had been married in many years earlier. When Mrs. Monihan heard my voice piping up above the others in our 3rd grade music class she knew I’d be a good fit for the solo.
Mrs. Monihan was the type of teacher who poured her entire being into her work, she had a wicked laugh and she played the piano at breakneck speed. She would take a bunch of kids from our blue-collar town and teach us to sing and play instruments and feel the wonder of music in our hearts. Many years later, after I was in college on a scholarship to study vocal opera I would think back on Mrs. Monihan’s tremendous influence on my life and the wonderful gift inside me that she unwrapped with her boundless enthusiasm.
As I stood there singing in the bright circle of light on the stage I only had a very vague understanding of the evil out there in the world, I was very blessed to have loving parents who took care of me and made sure I was safe, fed hot meals and taken care of with a roof over my head. Other than the usual mischief that little kids get into at that age I was innocent to the horrors of the world.
In that moment, at the crowded VFW hall, I was able to sing a beautiful song and move the hearts of the people in the audience.
When the song was over there was a moment of silence, and then the audience erupted and clapped and went bonkers. It was a great moment.
Fast forward 30 years…….
December of 2012 was a really busy month for me, I was running Balloon Distractions and also doing consulting work for a company headquartered in Philadelphia. I was constantly on flights between Philadelphia and Tampa. It was one of those rare days when I was home in Tampa and able to work from my home office.
I was doing some admin work when I took a break and clicked over to Slate to check out the news. I saw a story about a shooting unfolding at an elementary school in Massachusetts. I got up from my desk and walked out to my living room to watch CNN on the TV.
As the details about Newtown unfolded on my TV screen I sat there on my couch and began to cry. I wept in that profound way that empties the caverns of the heart and makes sorrow easier to carry. This tragedy, more than any others, shook my faith and stirred something deep inside me. As the owner of a business that makes children HAPPY the Newtown massacre brought me down for a long time after, and even now represents a permanent shadow in my heart.
I wept because we were so close to Christmas day, a holiday that is all about love for children, a holiday that celebrates the BIRTH of a child. I wept because of the love I have for my own daughters… I could only imagine the pain those parents were going through when they learned the news.
Any mass shooting is a horrible tragedy, but the Newtown massacre extinguished the lives of 22 children who woke up that morning with an expectation that the world around them was a good place in which they were loved, well cared for, and kept safe from the evil is OUT THERE in the world.
My only consolation is that the children from Newtown all went to heaven as a group, and I’m positive that there were many people “up there” to greet them, comfort them, and hold them close. If you are not a person of Faith then I suppose you believe that those innocent souls are truly gone, snuffed out like a flame from a small candle, but I sincerely hope that is not the case.
Sometimes it takes two extremes to really understand and appreciate what is out there in the universe. After Newtown many people lamented that the world is a bad and evil place, but that is only because the Adam Lanza’s of the world get more attention than 100,000 good people like Mrs. Monihan.
Every day, in small towns and large cities all over the world, there are good people who wake up in the morning and then go out to work hard and do an excellent job. Some of these jobs might be high profile, like the mayor of a city, or they might be very humble jobs, a janitor mopping a floor in a high school, or a domestic changing sheets in a hotel.
Sometimes no one notices the good job that they are doing, but they do it anyway because they have pride and abiding respect with themselves and THEY know whether they did a good job or not.
Good work is a counterbalance to anyone out there doing BAD work, and doing something to make a child smile counteracts (in a small way) the bad things that are happening to children elsewhere.
Bad things happen, but I choose to believe in the good that is out there, the people like Mrs. Monihan who choose to be a beacon of light.