One crisp December night twenty years ago, from my outside deck and through sliding glass doors, I watched my two-year-old daughter wander the unsupervised living room, dining room and kitchen of our tri-level townhouse. Her confused expression asked, “Why isn’t Mommy coming inside?”
I wasn’t coming inside because she’d mistakenly locked me out on a second story deck with no access to the ground. For ten minutes, I yelled for help. Not one person heard my cries.
Her puzzled expression switched. I could see the wheels of thought spin as she went over to the cords of the vertical shades. Slowly they closed, taking away any ability to keep a motherly eye on her. I pounded on the glass like a mad woman until she opened them, her expression more confused than before.
A moment later, she disappeared into the kitchen and returned dragging a chair up to the closet door. Climbing up onto it, as if she were trying to reach something inside, she kept glancing in my direction, almost begging me to come inside to make her get down. Boy did I yell. After a minute, she climbed off the chair, wandered into the middle of the living room then curled into a ball on the floor and cried.
That moment still rips me apart.
A neighbor finally opened her door to say goodbye to a guest. Within seconds she’d thrown me a coat, cordless phone and alerted the entire complex. Cell phones didn’t exist, but I called my husband’s office, fifty minutes away, and learned he’d already left.
The neighbors gathered on the ground below. Some stayed to offer me words of encouragement while the others tried to find a way to break into my well-secured home. The only thing holding me together for the next half hour, until I finally heard the squeal of my husband’s car brakes, was the support of my condo community. The ordeal ended with lots of tears (mostly mine) and, thankfully, no injuries to my daughter.
A week ago, I’d started to write a blog post about that night. Every December something kicks off a haunting reminder of my short ordeal. Like everyone else in the country, though, a week ago my world stalled as I watched the events unfold at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
I live in Bethel, next door neighbor to Newtown, Connecticut where you’ll find the small village of Sandy Hook. The towns around here are linked by thin threads; sports, church, dance classes. Even on my own street, two neighbors have ties to victims of the tragedy.
Five days after the horrible events at the school, I assumed things had quieted down in the small town so my family brought flowers to the memorial at the firehouse used as a staging area during the crisis. Despite pouring rain and the passage of several days since the tragedy, crowds still filled the narrow streets. They added more candles, notes and other mementos to memorials that started at the highway exit and continued all the way into the village. They prayed. They respectfully read notes left by loved ones. License plates showed people came from states far away from Connecticut.
As I left Sandy Hook, it hit me how the community of people who care about those twenty precious children and their families plus the brave adults who tried to protect them continues to grow. There are no true borders to define where community starts and ends.
Many days the news makes me lose faith in mankind, yet the outpouring of support for Sandy Hook reminds me of all that is still good in our world. The large extended community surrounding Sandy Hook, in a way, is doing what my neighbors did on that cold winter night, just on a larger scale.
Have you ever been thankful for the random kind act of a stranger or friend? Please feel free to share any thoughts, including those about the kindness you’ve seen this past week.