Quick Takes: A Day For Remembering

* I am going to devote today’s Quick Takes to the fifth anniversary of the horrific shooting in Newton, Connecticut at the Sandy Hook School. We’ve had other mass shootings since that day, and all of the victims deserve our undying commitment to doing something to stop them from ever happening again.

* Here is the image that captured my feelings so well.

* President Obama has said that December 14, 2012 was the worst day of his presidency. His press secretary at the time agrees.

* We were blessed at the time to have a president who spoke to our grief by addressing his own.

* A few days later, Obama attended the memorial service in Newtown. Joshua DuBois told us about the solemn moments of comfort.

The families came in and gathered together, room by room. Many struggled to offer a weak smile when we whispered, “The president will be here soon.” A few were visibly angry—so understandable that it barely needs to be said—and were looking for someone, anyone, to blame. Mostly they sat in silence…

The president took a deep breath and steeled himself, and went into the first classroom. And what happened next I’ll never forget.

Person after person received an engulfing hug from our commander in chief. He’d say, “Tell me about your son. . . . Tell me about your daughter,” and then hold pictures of the lost beloved as their parents described favorite foods, television shows, and the sound of their laughter. For the younger siblings of those who had passed away—many of them two, three, or four years old, too young to understand it all—the president would grab them and toss them, laughing, up into the air, and then hand them a box of White House M&M’s, which were always kept close at hand. In each room, I saw his eyes water, but he did not break.

And then the entire scene would repeat—for hours. Over and over and over again, through well over a hundred relatives of the fallen, each one equally broken, wrecked by the loss. After each classroom, we would go back into those fluorescent hallways and walk through the names of the coming families, and then the president would dive back in, like a soldier returning to a tour of duty in a worthy but wearing war. We spent what felt like a lifetime in those classrooms, and every single person received the same tender treatment. The same hugs. The same looks, directly in their eyes. The same sincere offer of support and prayer.

The staff did the preparation work, but the comfort and healing were all on President Obama. I remember worrying about the toll it was taking on him. And of course, even a president’s comfort was woefully inadequate for these families in the face of this particularly unspeakable loss. But it became some small measure of love, on a weekend when evil reigned.

And the funny thing is—President Obama has never spoken about these meetings. Yes, he addressed the shooting in Newtown and gun violence in general in a subsequent speech, but he did not speak of those private gatherings. In fact, he was nearly silent on Air Force One as we rode back to Washington, and has said very little about his time with these families since. It must have been one of the defining moments of his presidency, quiet hours in solemn classrooms, extending as much healing as was in his power to extend. But he kept it to himself—never seeking to teach a lesson based on those mournful conversations, or opening them up to public view.

* I’ve focused on Obama because his words and actions at the time spoke for me – and probably the rest of the country. I can’t bear remembering the pain of that particular shooting while dwelling in the toxicity of our politics today. I will forever be grateful that we had a president at the time who not only comforted those families with compassion, grace and dignity, but also helped the rest of us deal with our grief as well.

* Finally, Cheryl Crow has released a song titled, “The Dreaming Kind,” with proceeds going to Sandy Hook Promise.

The tragedy in Newtown 5 years ago and the countless lives lost in mass shootings since have weighed heavily on my heart. I felt compelled to write “The Dreaming Kind” for the incredible people at Sandy Hook Promise who work so hard every day to combat gun violence. The extraordinary work this organization does to educate and protect our nation from further bloodshed gives me hope for a better tomorrow. I hope this song will inspire the same feeling in those who hear it.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .