Photograph by Madeline Pantalena
By Madeline Pantalena
This is the playground at PS 166, an elementary school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. This is where I was when I found out about the tragedy at Sandy Hook.
I had just picked the three boys I nannied for up from school, after noticing that the street around the school, and the school itself, was crawling with police officers. I couldn’t figure out why—but since they were not in the playground, only outside the fence, and the day was warm enough for December, I acquiesced to the boys’ request to play for a while after school.
While watching the boys play, trying to keep track of them in the morass of screaming, happy children, I got a text from my mother telling me what had happened. Surrounded by joyful, playing children who had no idea continue to run and play, I burst into tears.
How unfair, to know that hope has been extinguished for whole families, for a whole community, while standing surrounded by childhood hope only an hour away.
As I’ve wrestled with the loss my Connecticut community suffered on this day four years ago, I always return to the playground at PS166. I spent countless hours there—nursing boo-boos, holding coats and backpacks, arbitrating whose turn it was on the monkey bars—that I can still see it clear as day in my mind’s eye. Playgrounds are hopeful places. They are where children learn some of the most important lessons of life: how to work out disagreements, how to share, how to be better humans.
I hope, and feel we all must hope, that this tragedy remains an aberration, not the start of a trend. That the memories of the victims inspire hope for a better future, with better gun control and better treatment for mental illness, rather than inspiring bitterness and divisiveness.
Pray with me today in remembrance for those lost but never forgotten, and for hope, for a world where children can play on playgrounds, blissfully unaware that anyone might ever want to hurt them. Where their joy and hope can infect grown-ups near and far, helping us to learn how to be better humans, too.