This is Charley about the age of the children who lost their lives in Newtown. He may be twenty-two now but sometimes his Down syndrome allows him to still be that little boy anticipating Christmas. Innocent, full of joy, waiting for Santa.
Charley was a funny little thing, always easy to shop for. While other children were asking for the latest toys, Charley wanted flashlights. It didn’t matter what kind, either. Lanterns, pocket flashlights, spotlights with handles, rotating lights, toys that lit up, globe lights spinning around, and oh, if it had a siren or made noise? All the better. And every year, the Christmas list was the same – “Batawees.” Still, he had trouble keeping the battery from failing.
Time after time I explained that if he kept the light on all night it would eventually burn out. But Charley is uncomfortable with darkness. So the flashlight stays on.
And that goes for Christmas lights. He doesn’t understand why they can’t stay on all night.
It wasn’t until he was about eight that he began to make the connection between twinkling lights and Christmas. As Charley’s gotten older he’s taken on the job of turning on our lights. It’s part of the Christmas spirit.
Only, this year there’s a damper on Christmas. At first I thought it was the stampedes we all witnessed via TV on black Friday (or was it black Thanksgiving night?), where people pushed and shoved trampling other shoppers in pursuit of the latest electronic whateveritwas that they just had to have. Forget the other guy, just get the thing.
But I was wrong. Seeing grown-ups act like children wasn’t the damper. Seeing children blown away? That’s the damper. That’s the unthinkable. The unbearable.
This week the community of Newtown came together for a memorial service as the country looked on. The media kept showing pictures of the shrine outside. Who knows how many candles there were? Symbols that the tiny lights we lost this past week will continue to burn.
Charley didn’t watch the program. I didn’t want him to. Instead, he went to a Christmas service with one of his teachers. By the time he returned home, it was getting late and we had already turned out the Christmas lights.
Downs does not mean dumb. He knew something was wrong. He saw his Dad cry. He saw his Mom put her face in her hands. He knows sadness when he sees it.
“You okay, Daddy?” he said and then looked at me. “Mom?”
“We’re okay as long as we have you,” Brad said, and hugged him tight. The three of us huddled on the couch until Charley realized the lights were out. “Hey!” he said, and sprang to his feet.
“We don’t need Christmas lights at this time of night,” Brad said.
“Uh huh, Daddy,” Charley said, and turned on every last light. “See? Kimass!”
As I sat there watching him I couldn’t help thinking that in some of my darkest moments Charley’s been my light.
My hope is that the families who have suffered unspeakable loss will know that this is a time of darkness for all who cry with them. It’s Christmas. Not a time to grab gifts and shove our way through the crowd, but a time to hug our loved ones, assure them that they are loved, and a time to remember the tiny lights that call us out of ourselves and show us the way.
It’s dark. But in our darkness, and if there be purpose, so let their little lights shine.