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The Boston Globe


Beverly Beckham

No words can describe Newtown’s pain

There are no words. Yet there are only words. Tragic. Inexplicable. Carnage. Babies. Heroes.

We use words to make sense of the senseless.

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Charlotte Helen Bacon, 6, wanted to be a veterinarian. Daniel Gerard Barden, 7, was always smiling. Rachel D’Avino, 29, was to be engaged. Noah Samuel Pozner, 6, had a twin sister. Jack Armistead Pinto, 6, loved the New York Giants. Grace Audrey McDonnell, 7, loved playing dress-up. Histories. Potential. Future.

A person’s presence is a huge thing to lose.

I want to make Christmas cookies and listen to Christmas songs and forget about living and dying and the enigma of existence. How life can turn on a dime and does every day, for so many people, not in a public, mind-numbing way, like in Newtown, Conn., but routinely, inevitably.

I want to believe what I mostly always believe, what has sustained me for a lifetime: that we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, but spiritual beings having a human experience.

That we are not our bodies. We are souls.

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But you can’t kiss a soul good night or read a soul a story. Souls don’t have birthday parties. Souls don’t open presents on Christmas Day. A soul is not what you give birth to and hold in your arms. A soul is not what you miss every day, in the kitchen, in the next room, bursting through the door after school. You don’t bury soul. You bury a body.

And part of yourself.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, King Herod ordered that the child be found and killed, and to make certain that the deed was done, he told his troops to murder every boy in Bethlehem under the age of 2.

I think about those babies today. I think about their mothers and fathers and the families who wept for them. And the futures they never lived. And the devastated, traumatized, blood-soaked village. How did people go on? How does anyone go on? How do people survive genocides and slaughter? Auschwitz. My Lai. Sarajevo. Rwanda. Dunblane. Lockerbie. Oklahoma City. Columbine. 

How did the Bishes go on after someone kidnapped and killed their daughter? And Jaycee Dugard, who was kidnapped and held prisoner for 18 years? How did she endure this? How does she endure now? And the New York City parents whose two children were stabbed to death in October, allegedly by their nanny? Where do people find the strength to get up and put one foot in front of the other day after day when their hearts have been pummeled?

Other people give them strength. Other people help. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. This is the message of Christmas. This is why we celebrate. Because we are not alone.

For God so loved the world that he gave us each other.

Composer Jason Robert Brown wrote a haunting tribute to all the victims, “Twenty-Six Names,” and posted it on his website. “The Voice” paid tribute with a chorus of hallelujahs. Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson wrote all 26 names of the dead on his cleats.

Friends and strangers have flocked to Newtown with flowers and prayers and stuffed animals. There have been poems and silence and tributes and music and tears across the country, all over the world, in an effort to do something. All because we care.

After Sept. 11, 2011, we were like this. We were sad and frightened and committed and united.

And then we weren’t.

Jim Brady has been talking gun control since a bullet changed his life 31 years ago. Isn’t it about time we listen to him?

Violent movies. Violent video games. Violent songs. Why do we watch them? Buy them? And why do we allow our children to be exposed to these things?

The mentally ill? They need help and support and medical intervention before they commit a crime.

We all have the capacity to help and save one another. But we need to stay focused and not let what happened in Newtown become like all the other tragedies we’ve wept over — usurped too quickly by the next big news story.

There are no words. Yet there are only words. Shout them. Feel them. Babies. Teachers. Terrified. Gone.

Beverly Beckham can be reached at

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