It’s getting harder to believe in innocence anymore. I’ve seen too many 6 year olds going on 16 and 16 year olds going on 30. What’s the hurry? The most popular TV shows among teenagers have titles like Pretty Little Liars, Gossip Girls, and The Secret Life of an American Teenager. Each has a plotline as lurid as its title. And these are the programs the networks market as family fare. Seriously. Adults, on the other hand, get programs about serial killers. What happened to enrichment? ‘Reality’ TV is even worse. Watching one of those shows is like taking a course in back-stabbing and name calling, vitriol and venom. Where’s the love, man? And then, of course, there is the news. Reality at its most chilling and tragic. Last week a gunman – himself barely out of his teens – went on a rampage in an elementary school in Connecticut. He not only robbed 20 beautiful young children of their innocence, he robbed them of their future. I cannot imagine the gut-wrenching sorrow their parents will carry with them for the rest of their lives. It is unbearable to think about. Yes, sometimes it seems like there are powerful forces at work, determined to wipe innocence off the face of the earth entirely. And yet, before this latest tragedy unfolded, innocence is exactly what I had intended to write about.
Recently, I attended Notre Dame’s annual Christmas tree trimming party. It’s held every year a week before NDP lets out for the holidays. The entire school participates. I have to admit, I really wasn’t expecting much, having not yet donned the Christmas Spirit myself (I like to pace myself through the holidays and don’t usually shift into high gear ’til about the 20th). I certainly didn’t see how it would be significant enough to blog about. Upon arrival, however, my outlook began to change. The day before, the school had been decked out in wreaths and ribbons and lush greenery, courtesy of some very creative NDP moms. And there in the front lobby stood a magnificent tree, tall enough to rival Rockefeller Center’s and already beautifully decorated. Across from it and next to a life size crèche, was a smaller, humbler tree, equally beautiful in its own way. This is the tree the girls would decorate with ornaments created in each homeroom. As I arrived, the lobby was already beginning to fill up with students and staff. Nearly everyone wore a crazy Christmas sweater. I’ve never seen so many woolen snowmen and crocheted Christmas balls all in one place in my life. And then there were the knee-highs and tights. Green ones, red ones, candy striped ones. One little redhead had quite the snow village knitted into her socks. By the end of the day, however, the village had collapsed around her ankles (“They’re kinda itchy and hot,” she explained as she pushed them down). Inside the dining room things were really bustling. In the center were row upon row of tables lined with plates full of delicious Christmas cookies. Off to the side were two busy stations manned by students: the reindeer antler station and the reindeer nose station. One by one, each NDP girl stood in line to receive her official pipe cleaner antlers and get her nose painted red before heading out to the lobby for the festivities. By 3PM the lobby was packed with a sea of red-nosed pre-teens and teens. I squeezed between middle school teacher, Sharon Moser (who had brought along one of her famous puppets) and headmistress, Sr. Patricia McCarron. As representatives from each homeroom were called up to place their ornament upon the tree, a few students led the school in caroling. Soon, the lobby was filled with joyful song. Not half-hearted-I’m-too-cool-for school-singing either. But, lively-I’m-so-happy-to-be-here singing. The kind that puts a smile on your face and the spirit in your heart. The kind that makes you believe in the possibility of at least moments of pure innocence. Half way through a particularly boisterous rendition of The Twelve Days of Christmas, Sister Patricia pointed towards the front door, and whispered excitedly, “Claire! Look!” There, making his way through the crowd was Santa. I looked back at Sister Patricia, puzzled, wondering if it was something else she might be pointing out to me. “It’s Santa!” she said by way of explanation, as if I must be new to the concept. I had a camera in my hand and for a moment I thought that this PhD, no nonsense school executive actually wanted me to take a picture of him as proof of his existence. So I did. You know. Just because. I looked back at Sister Patricia and smiled. In fact, I smiled the whole way home.
Merry Christmas! Bluenote will pick up after the holidays. In the meantime, hug your kids and tell them you love them. You can never do it enough.