Life sometimes provides the best and the worst at exactly the same time. At this time of the year when children are celebrated even more than usual, 20 sets of parents are experiencing a grief that no parent should experience. And on this very same day, I watched a video of my first grandchild, now three and a half years old, play Joseph in a preschool Christmas pageant in London, where he lives.
Today, my grandson’s life spreads before him. He knows only love and safety and trust. He lives a life of infinite possibility. On the video, I watch his small form, dressed in white pants and a white shirt, his blond head enclosed by a silver halo. Angelic-looking under normal circumstances, he is even more so in his Christmas play clothing. He welcomes the “mummies and daddies” to the performance, then takes his spot on the stage with the others, so that they can sing the songs they have been practicing for weeks. Later, he puts his robe on and stands next to “Mary” as she holds the doll that represents Baby Jesus.
On any other day, I would be thinking only of how ironic and, at the same time, impossibly perfect, it is that my Jewish grandson would play such an important role in his school’s Christmas play. That he would be the husband of the woman who would give birth to a boy who would grow to become the symbol of a very unJewish religion. That is, on any other day but today. Today is different. Different in a way that will change, for me and for so many others, all Christmas holidays to come.
Today, I watch the video of my grandson and I am even more aware of the joy and the expectation that radiates from his small face, knowing that for 20 other children, the joy and the expectations are no more. There will be no more holidays, no school plays, no graduations, no mastering the countless things they will learn as they inch their way daily from childhood into adulthood.
That this would have happened at all is horrific. That this would have happened at this particular time of year, when the religious celebrate the birth of a child and the non-religious celebrate simply the joy of giving gifts to children is incomprehensible. Also incomprehensible is the trauma to parents, to grandparents, to siblings.
I turn back to the video. I watch it over and over. I believe that if I watch it enough times, the other events of the day will not have occurred. The 20 young lives will still be in school, thinking only about the presents they will discover under the Christmas tree. When school lets out, they will return home to parents who will hug them and ask about their day. Like my grandson, their lives will spread out before them. They will know only love and safety and trust. They will live a life of infinite possibility, and the very fact of their lives will enrich us all.