It is really fun taking a look back at old photos of family members, especially as little kids. It gives us a glimpse of what little Baby Johnson might look like. This photo is of Dane’s dad, Darrell, and his uncles, Duane and Doug. I believe it was taken in 1958.
Pictured left to right: Doug, Darrell (Dane’s dad), and Duane. Duluth, Minnesota.
Last Friday was going to be a day to catch up – to do a few things that are sometimes hard to do in our normal busy work life and home life – unless you take a day off. So Friday was to be my day to get some things done. It started with a dentist appointment in the morning – just a routine cleaning and checkup. On the way home after the dentist, the radio stations were all talking about a possible shooting at a grade school in Connecticut. I arrived home and promptly changed cars and headed for the dealership to get another kind of checkup – this one for the car, not the teeth. As I was sitting in the waiting room waiting for the car, the TV on the wall was showing pictures of the school in Connecticut and talking about a massacre involving many children and adults in the school. The few of us in the room were silent, transfixed by the events on the screen, seeing but really not yet believing. It took me back to the morning of 9/11. I had spoken at a conference at the Botanic Garden in Highland Park. At the conclusion of my talk the moderator announced that a plane had crashed into one of the buildings at the World Trade Center in New York. Instead of heading into work at Northwestern in Evanston, I decided to go home to Lake Bluff – minutes after I arrived home and turned on the TV the second plane came gliding across the screen and slammed into the second tower. There are certain events in our lives that remain glued to our memory forever – for those of us old enough to have been alive when President Kennedy was shot we all remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when we learned of the shooting. The tragedy of the World Trade Centers on 9/11 is likewise riveted to our memory. And now, the unspeakable horror of Sandy Hook. We will never forget. We must not ever forget.
Later that night, I believe, the father of one of the first grade students, Emily, spoke to the media. Through his tears he was brave beyond comprehension. He talked of seeing Emily for the last time in the morning as he was off to work – how they exchanged a kiss and said farewell in Portuguese, a language he was trying to teach her. As he spoke, beyond the bravery, the thing that struck me the most was he referred to Emily in the present, not the past. Emily is this, Emily does that; not Emily was, Emily did. There was a picture of the bright blue eyed blond first grader on the split screen as he spoke, and as I watched and listened I almost began to believe that this was all somehow an unreality – of course Emily is, of course Emily does, of course Emily is alive and learning Portuguese.
The next day, Saturday, as more details of the events at Sandy Hook in Newtown unfolded, here at Loyola we celebrated what has been called the Game of Change. The NCAA tournament game in 1963 between Mississippi State and Loyola, a game where the coach and players of Mississippi State defied the Governor and law enforcement officers of the state who had forbade them from travelling north to play a team from Chicago with African American players as 4 of the 5 starters. The significance of that defiance and that game has grown over the years. For the players from both teams it was about playing a basketball game, but on a much broader scale it was another assault on a system of segregation in the south that had been encrusted for almost a century. As I watched the players from those teams at halftime come to center court and shake hands once again, I thought about how far we have come in 50 years with civil rights and race relations, but I also thought about how far we still have to go. And I kept seeing the face of little Emily, the first grader who was making ginger bread cookies with her classmates when a madman with an assault weapon walked through the door and started mowing down everyone in sight, and I kept hearing the choking voice of the bereaved father saying Emily is, Emily does, you would like to meet my Emily.
Sunday morning was time for church, and I wondered how this would go. It was the third Sunday in Advent, the Sunday of Joy. The juxtaposition of the children of Sandy Hook Elementary slaughtered on Friday with the anticipation of the joyful arrival of the Christ child was too painfully ironic. Appropriately enough, the service began with somber notes of solemnity and sorrow, followed by reflective silence. Then we all sang Joy to the World. Well, almost all. I couldn’t sing – not then, not yet – I couldn’t get the blue eyes and blond hair out of my vision. Emily smiles. Appropriately enough as well, the sermon of the day was not about celebrating the coming arrival of a savior. It was about that old curmudgeon John the Baptist exhorting would be followers to give their clothes and food to the less fortunate among them. Somehow if there had to be a sermon on this day, this one seemed to fit. The kingdom of Heaven is not about what you do for yourself, but what you do for others. So go and do. I thought, how Jesuit.
Later on Sunday, our President travelled to Newtown to address a grieving town and moreover a grieving nation. This was not the Gettysburg Address but, like Gettysburg, I believe it will be remembered in history as one of the signal seminal moments for this country, a time when the entire nation paused to reflect on what has just happened, on what we as a people have done, for most certainly there is culpability and blame to be meted out for this tragedy, and, like Lincoln almost 150 years ago, to resolve that our dead, husbands, fathers, brothers, and now, even our little innocent children, have not died, they cannot have died in vain. There is that smiling face and the father repeating Emily is, Emily does, you would like to meet my Emily.
On Monday, one of Emily’s classmates, little Jack Pinto was laid to rest in his Little League uniform. Perhaps there is Little League baseball in heaven. I certainly hope so. That noon we celebrated our annual alumni Christmas lunch – an event that has evolved into one of the highlights of our calendar year, and we heard from one of our Loyola students, Gabi Waleska, who very vividly reminded us of why we do what we do here at Loyola. So a bright and engaging young woman whose family emigrated from Poland when she was only 9, whose parents speak only broken English and whose father has terminal cancer, can come to the school of her dreams and receive the education and training that she needs to go out and make a difference in the world.
As I reflected on the almost surreal mixture of joy and sorrow, of grief and celebration that occurred over merely four days from Friday through Monday, I discovered that the enormity and significance of the various events and experiences was overwhelming. It was all far beyond and outside of the wide lens of my mind. Yet through it all the picture I seem to remember the most and the clearest through all of the chaos is that of Emily’s brave father, tears streaming down his face, addressing the media and in fact the nation, saying Emily is this and Emily does that, and you would like to meet my Emily, and then I hear a voice in broken English with a heavy Polish accent saying my Gabi is this and my Gabi does that, and you would like to meet my Gabi.
Four days. Four crazy days. Too much to take in – emotionally overwhelming. The senseless slaughter of little children and the coming of the Christ child. It is all beyond reason. But for us, we must choose to continue on the journey – to seek out and give love to others, to help the poor and unfortunate among our midst, to give thanks for our blessings and to give comfort to those that mourn, to grieve and also to celebrate.
Emily is, Emily does, you would like to meet my Emily. We are, we do.
Joy to the World.
My sister, Julie Anna, and I have been members of the Nordic Voices of Chicago for the past few years. I took this Christmas season off, but Julie is still sharing her lovely scandinavian vocals with the world. She will be in the Sankta Lucia Procession at the Swedish American Museum (SAM) of Chicago’s Julmarknad on Saturday, December 1st. For anyone who is interested in nordic culture, wonderful food, warm atmosphere, and wonderment please join us - you will not be disappointed!
Photo: Julie (AKA Nordic Goddess) as Sankta Lucia in 2010 at the SAM Julmarknad
Happy National Cousins Day! I didn’t know that this day existed until now, but I’ll definitely celebrate it. We will all be together in less than four days. Can’t wait!! Love you!!
Photo: Heintzelman girl cousins. Lake Geneva, WI. June, 2012.
…but of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life, I love you more
Happy Father’s Day Pops!