Remembering Sandy Hook, CT in NC


Around 9:45, I watched a friend’s Facebook status update read, “Elementary school is in lockdown, what’s going on?”

Then the trickle of comments, “Just got a text, our school is in lockdown too.”

Then the words “shooting” that no one believed until 11:00am.

And everything unraveled.

Parent’s lives permanently blasted through with holes as unforgiving as gunshots.

Communities altered forever. Evil won.

To me, the holiday no longer mattered on some level. Who even cared anymore?

Although I didn’t know anyone personally who was affected, many of my friends live in the surrounding community and supported each other online.

From the news, to the Facebook posts, to the arguments on gun control, Christmas at our house could have been  easily overshadowed this year.

I was already unusually late getting the tree and decorations up.

By Sunday, the 16th, I decided, I needed Christmas back.

So I went to the local Methodist church. A deeply Southern, gothic cathedral where the 15 foot stained glass windows recalled names of founding Southern fathers and mothers from the 1800’s. Some attendees still have people over for roast at night, and live on the land their great- great grandaddy farmed. Their celebration of Christmas had no rival on tradition. I knew the choir would sing from Handel’s Messiah, greens and candles lavished around the pews, and the Moravian star would be hanging. That was going to be my respite from the news.

But I was wrong.

The pastor began with modifications in the program, “In light of the Sandy Hook tragedy in Connecticut, we will not be singing ‘Angels We Have Heard On High’ and instead sing Hymn 214, “Savior of the Nations Come.” The music ached with pungent dissonance and conflicting tones.

When we came to the “Prayers for the People ” section, the pastor prayed for the Sandy Hook victims, families, relatives, community. For healing. For love.

We skipped the planned “Word in Song” from Handel’s Messiah where the words begin “For Behold, Darkness shall cover the earth” to be replaced by “The Light.”

The sermon addressed evil, and light, and God entering into the world while not yet eradicating evil, leaving a mark and glow that we couldn’t yet see in Connecticut, but promised we would. There are no satisfying sermons, but he squarely connected tragedy and Christmas. And that we would be living with both this year.

It ended with a Prayer of Dedication that we “go as God’s people into the world”.  First and second grade girls led the massive choir down the long gothic aisle, and as every year, the choir encircled the church and sang “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”

And I looked again at the photo on the bulletin and realized the angels were singing… because they had 26 more voices added to them and here they were on the bulletin, chosen earlier in a week that held tragedy.


Kiss Mah Grits

At 10 years old, I fully understood North and South.

I knew diners and waitresses and I knew we didn’t have anyone like Flo where I grew in urban Bridgeport, Connecticut.

The TV show Alice was in full swing. Florence Jean Castleberry (the original “Flo”, sorry Progressive) ended every conversation she didn’t like simply stating, “Oh, kiss my grits” and walking away. She was endearing, not rude. Others responded with laughter, head shakes, and often, giving in to her way. By the end of the show in 1985, she lobbed “Kiss my grits” to Mel, Alice, Vera, and nearly every truck driver that shot her a line.

In my 10 year old mind, Flo was magic. She told people what she thought. She was nice, but she wasn’t nice. She didn’t care whether people thought she was nice or not. Flo was from Texas.

I needed to be with Flo’s people.

I practiced my accent and exagerrated, “kiss mah grits”, using it properly on my sister, and behind teacher’s backs.

I was committed to learning the language of Flo’s people. It was where I wanted to be- the South.

As I grew, my internal compass always pointed anywhere but North. My first boyfriend was from the South. I watched North and South, one of the first mini-series,  on TV. I watched Dukes of Hazard and Dallas, and sprouted an intermittent southern drawl.  I was determined to be where I “belonged”.

At 17, I asked God where I should go to college. (Yep. A praying person even before moving to the Bible belt.) Different people would bring up North Carolina like a trail of uncooked grits poured before me. I was accepted to a university. However, in my mind, this was a temporary reroute from getting to Florida where I would train dolphins. Freshman biology and motion sickness proved that God knew best. I never trained dolphins. I never went to Florida. I stayed put. Right where I belong.

From the coast to the Triad, North Carolina continues to host me and I’ll never leave. This makes me not only a Yankee, but a damn Yankee. Been told that more than once. I’ve also been welcomed, invited in, and shared sweet tea with the finest the South has to offer.

I have yet to even visit Texas. Flo just needed to get my compass pointed in the right direction.