JS Archive

Apr 2007: Hold tight to children, innocence

Mike Nichols Mike Nichols

Our youngest had his First Communion over the weekend.

We dressed him up in a white shirt and the only pair of pants he has ever worn that came straight from the dry cleaners. We borrowed a blue blazer from an older cousin. He wanted to wear a tie.

I am not much for videotaping. We have a camcorder but always seem to forget it. I remembered it this time because, I guess, I could see even before we drove to church that there was something in his face – excitement, innocence, a little bit of nervousness – that I wanted to remember.

And not just in his. If there is anything even more photogenic than a wide-eyed 7-year-old boy on a spring day of stained-glass brilliance, it is a whole bunch of little 7- and 8-year-old girls in white gloves and dresses, their hair wound up in lace.

I have all the biases of a parent but, when you look for something to cling to at the end of a very bad week, I know I am not the only one.

This is a big country that, we have found, can become small extremely quickly – and at times you don’t quite expect.

One of those times came right after the Mass. It is a big church we go to and it was very crowded, and as we were getting out of the pew, a woman we didn’t recognize approached my wife.

She said she was from Blacksburg, a town that a week ago I could not have even placed on a map. She mentioned Virginia Tech.

She didn’t say much, and my wife heard more of it than I did. But she did say this: She said she was in town for the funeral of a relative. And she said that she just wanted to tell us that our son looked angelic.

In an apparent reference to the First Communion Mass, she also said that, out in Virginia, out in Blacksburg, “we are going to have ours” in a couple weeks.

I wanted to ask her more. But my son was already walking up to the altar to retrieve a chalice he had made. We thought we were supposed to go and get our picture taken. And she didn’t seem to want to linger.

She apparently just wanted us to know that she had seen something in our child’s face; wanted to tell us that – and I can only guess why.

The tragedy of Virginia Tech is a tragedy for everyone. But it is mostly a tragedy for parents.

Of the 32 victims, almost all were students. They didn’t leave behind spouses and kids, most of them. They left behind moms and dads.

I have read profiles of all of them and a couple stick with me.

Erin Peterson was 18.

“Her and her dad, man,” her godfather was quoted as saying, “you couldn’t separate them. He lost a child from cancer – a daughter, 8 years old. A week later (Erin) was born.”

Juan Ortiz was 26, a graduate student from Puerto Rico. He played in a salsa band with his father.

When his mother found out what had happened, a neighbor heard the scream all the way from the house next door.

It is astonishing, what is inside a child, and maybe the woman from Blacksburg just wanted us to know she had caught a glimpse of it, found something good and innocent, a kid in a tie, a little girl in a white dress, something that will be seen again in Blacksburg, even soon.

Maybe, too, she had a message for all of us.

You have something there.

Hold him, or her, tight.