“Lord, I lost my baby girl today, PLEASE don’t let her death be in vain” – Nelba Marquez-Greene, bereaved parent
Kate and I spent Friday with Jimmy and Nelba, close friends and quite literally two of the kindest, most loving people I have ever known, and parents of Isaiah and Ana, two incredibly sweet, affectionate children. While other parents were reacting to the horror of hearing about the Newtown, CT shooting by hugging their kids tighter, Jimmy and Nelba did not have that option with their beloved Ana Grace, and their hugs for Isaiah (who was in the building but survived) were enmeshed with the unanswerable question of how this boy will cope with incomprehensible tragedy.
For privacy’s sake, I am not going to give much detail about the last couple days, but there are three very important things to note:
1 ) A website has been set up for people to communicate with Jimmy and Nelba about this tragedy. So many people want to help, and that is amazing – for now, their basic needs are being met and this is a non-intrusive way to share condolences, mobilize support, and be in the loop when needs emerge and news arises about funeral arrangements, memorial contributions and so on. You need to create an account, but it’s a classy affair so don’t let that deter you. Signing up to receive updates will ensure that you are kept in the loop. Click on and/or share the link below:
2 ) Amidst unspeakable grief of their own, Jimmy and Nelba remain concerned for the other victims and those affected by this and other similar tragedies. They are strong, their faith is strong and they are able to appreciate the incredible gift of six and a half years with this superlatively loving child in their lives.
3 ) They do not want to see this horrible murder stir people into a frenzy that is then forgotten in a month, until the next one – whether through the sensationalism of the (inhumanely and sickeningly intrusive, FYI) press or through genuine concern that simply dissipates. The impact will not dissipate for this family – they will move forward, but this hole will remain unfilled.
This was, of course, not how I planned to spend my birthday. In fact, it was dumb luck that I even found out about it before heading off to NY. Kate and I had plans, made back in June, to go in, hang with a friend, eat lots of carbs, hear Eddie Palmieri’s career retrospective at JALC. Mainly the plan was to spend some relaxed together-time after (by standards that seemed relevant 24 hours ago) a stressful couple weeks and difficult year. As I walked out of Choate Rosemary Hall, someone in the office told me the basics of what had happened, and it didn’t take me long to put 2 and 2 together.
A bit of irony in there can be found in what I was doing moments before I heard the news. I was wrapping up week 3 of my first-ever full-on academic course for high school students, a sabbatical fill-in stint teaching Music of the 1960s. This week was folk music, particularly protest music. All week, using music as a vehicle, I’d been trying to get across one primary point: many of the comforts and freedoms and protections you now enjoy are there for you because people fought and struggled and stood up and risked their careers, reputations and even their lives. There were urgent things being protested. This was serious sh** (yes I said the equivalent of “poopie” to high school students, pink slip presumably forthcoming).
We listened to a whole class of songs by the SNCC Freedom Singers and discussed the transformation from work songs and spirituals to more modernized pleas for freedom and equality. We watched Pete Seeger retell the story of the concert after which he sat backstage and sang “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” with the man who had come with the intent of assassinating him that night. And then Friday we listened to Bob Dylan. I wanted them to look past the singing style (which resembles so little that one hears on the radio now) and recognize how prophetic “The Times They Are A-Changin’” was and how tragic and absurd “With God On Our Side” was. I especially wanted them to hear “Masters Of War” and feel unsettled and disturbed enough to appreciate, regardless of their own personal viewpoints, the urgency and confusion of the times and, to a large extent, of the human condition at large. For their subsequent homework, I assigned them to listen to “Ballad of Hollis Brown,” with hope that they would empathize on some level. It was important that they understand the tradition of deciding that privilege (including being protected from war, violence, oppression, hatred and inescapable poverty) should inspire responsibility and not complacency. Even oblivious to the news I would learn minutes later, I found myself near tears listening to these songs and absorbing their intent.
I left wondering if a) I had gotten through and b) I was being self-indulgent by contextualizing the music in this way and not simply playing some tunes and saying “so, uh, cool tune, eh?” I still don’t know if I got through, but boy am I convinced now that we as a people need to WAKE UP and that’s true of all age groups and socioeconomic strata and political affiliations. The group of people who mobilized to be with the Greenes affirmed for me that this is possible – I saw so much love and support and emotion, but I also saw clear-headedness, cooperation and capable and pragmatic problem-solving.
These are not silver linings – there are no ways to sugar-coat this colossally bitter pill. But deep in my heart, I do believe that we shall overcome someday. More specifically I believe that WE, the human race, have the capacity to CHOOSE how we move forward from this. Whether you were touched directly by Ana or whether your sympathy simply comes from being a human with feelings, she will not have died in vain if this is the moment when we as a people refuse to accept hate and violence. This is not about laws and politics and ideologies – I’m talking about basic human brotherhood here. Jimmy and Nelba moved to Newtown, and specifically their neighborhood, primarily because of this school. A Hollywood script-writer could not have chosen a more gut-wrenching way to illustrate that none of us are immune to tragedy.
In class we also listened to “Blowin’ In the Wind,” and I felt a chill during the lines at the end “how many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry? Yes and how many deaths will it take ‘til he knows that too many people have died?” I am listening to that again and again as I type through the tears. I know there is no way to “make sense” of this all, but for God’s sake, let’s make this the moment when we have officially reached the threshold of “enough” and let’s build a world that embodies cooperation, peace and most of all the love that Ana Grace herself embodied.
Thank You. You have said it beautifully. I bet many of the students processed this event differently thanks to your lessons this week.
Great post Noah.
Thank you, Noah for these beautiful words.
Noah… Thank You for this and for the deep love and compassion for your friends and most of all for allowing it to transcend into a model of the love and compassion we are meant to feel for all our fellow human beings.
PEACE + LOVE ~ L
Noah. Thanks for your eloquent expression of this most horrendous event. Personally, I am still in shock and find it increasingly difficult to understand let alone accept this tragedy or what it really means for our society. What is it that can possibly plunge a young man of 20 years old to produce such a horrific act. I just can not explain this to myself. Moreover, it frightens me so look at what is happening to our world and what the future holds for our children. So, your words are helpful somehow for me and hopefully I can also find a way to preserve the spirit of these young children and keep their beauty alive beyond this unspeakable tragedy.
Noah – Now I know music and tennis are not your only fortes. This is a truly remarkable reflection and the timing of your class at Choate was, well, uncanny, yet in another way horrible. I am so sorry for Jimmy and Nelba. No one should have to face what they are dealing with at this time. It’s unconscionable. Thank you for trying to eke out what positive might be derived from such a tragedy. I commend you and wish everyone the word you sign off with so often … peace. Take care …. Brian
Devastating, tragic, incomprehensible, horrifying…. The words we have seem inadequate to describe the depths of grief and pain and loss confronting these families. My heart aches for your friends, Noah, and for all of the families caught in this nightmare.
As a teacher myself, I’m especially grateful for this perspective, Noah, and thank you for the website info for Jimmy and his family. I’ll be sure to get in touch. Love and warm wishes, David A.
I’m in tears again.
thank you, noah. i just read this aloud to a friend and we are in tears again. grateful for your words and for your wisdom and your call to action.
I would read your blog anyway but, MAN, you hit it on the head and I will definitely forward your plea to others. One thing I both observe and experience after each of these tragedies is the groundswell of anger (even murderous rage by some) followed by eventual dissipation. The first is the very impulse that leads to more tragedy, the second a failure to learn its lessons. I agree there is a place for the political action that can and should be taken in this aftermath, as part of a sustained struggle to address these underlying issues. But I also think what you’re getting at is a sustained need for each of us to look personally inward, to recognize man’s corruptibility and capacity to kill, and then use the great gifts of conscience and love to make better choices instead in our everyday lives. That sustainability of peace and love is how to ensure Nelba’s plea is met. My and Megan’s love and thoughts are with you and Kate, and of course the Greenes (I already mentioned it was at your wedding where we met Jimmy). Let us know if you hear of positive ways/means to help all the aggrieved families.
Noah, thank you for this. I wrote something similar, too … about the need for love (http://ahalfbakedlife.blogspot.com/2012/12/with-love-for-newtown.html) … though I think you put it more eloquently here. Sending so many hugs to all of you, to your friends, and hoping to offer light to our small corner of the universe.
Thank you, Noah, for your wisdom, compassion, and call to action. I know I have a hard job tomorrow morning as I enter my K-4 elementary school in Madison, CT which shares the same demographics as Newtown. Believe me, I comprehend the good fortune that smiled upon us at Jeffrey Elementary on Friday morning at 9:40 a.m. but the vulnerability is palpable. Deepened will be my resolve to address and appreciate each of the 600+ sweet smiles, fosture each soul’s innocence and help nurture my students’ infinite potential. While sadness overwhelms me, I know that my/our increased efforts of kindness, love, compassion and understanding will aid our healing. I am going to start right now by sending some to Ana’s family. All love, Lisa
Thank you for yours words.
With much sympathy for you and your family but mostly to your dear friends who lost and angel.
Noah. I am so blessed to have you as a brother. You are so eloquent, even in the face of such tragedy. XOXO
Thank you for this loving memory you have shared. Something must be done to help save our children and society. So many things need changing. Where do we start? How ca we make our countrymen do the right things to get it done. Movies, games, news media, changing laws. I now believe in capital punishment. I have lost my innocence at age 68. We must ban together and make unpopular bans on many things. Bring silent pray to children of all faiths through high school, the pledge of Alligence daily. I am a changed person. Some things we need to back up on.
God bless us all.
Great post, the school children are lucky to have someone like you, I’m sure your self-indulgence, as you put it, will be a lasting lesson for these kids for years to come.
Thank you for your kind words. I will put your friends in my prayers.
Deepest condolences to you and your friends on this senseless tragedy and loss. As a mental health professional for 35 years, I can say that delusions are as real to someone psychotic as real war conflicts are to leaders and their fighters. Most mentally ill are not violent, even those with psychosis. Innocent children should not pay the cost of our ills. But they do. Rest in peace Ana and all the innocent children.
Right on brother.
Is there some way I’m not finding to easily find the footage of Pete Seeger retelling the story you mention? xoxoxo
I am so saddened about the tragedy, but you have my deepest sympathy!
Thank you for this Noah. I am so very inspired by your words that this tragedy may have many positive reactions. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all.
Thanks for your beautiful words, Noah. They are much needed right now…
My deepest condolences to u & ur family…ur philly family feels ur pain & we’re praying for yall may Ana rip
Thank you, we are all hurting. Hold onto the love.
Thank you for this blog post. There has been NOTHING plaguing me since his happened…but this. Anna was such a bright light and Nelba & Jimmy — quintessential parents. Ana’s death will not be in vain.
To read the news . . . to hear the president recite the names of 20 innocent victims is extraordinarily painful. To see the photo of such a beautiful and innocent young child… words cannot begin to capture the feeling.
Please review this song, I wrote it when my daughter died this last September. RASCAL FLATTS. May be cutting it on their album. I know it will bring healing to all who listen to it. 615-779-4245 is my direct cell. I give you permission to distribute accordingly. My name is Brad Henley. Please take 4 min and listen to the song. Here is the link, to download it far right click and save as. Otherwise I can send you a direct download.
Thank you, Noah. Well done. Even in the depths of unimaginable pain that you must be experiencing, through your eloquence, compassion and talent with words you have conveyed what many must feel but can not say. It IS time for ACTION. I believe these children have sacrificed themselves for the greater good, to teach us. I hold fast to the belief that there is purpose behind tragedy – which can lead to a better way – if we are aware. I agree that we must WAKE UP and CHANGE the way we treat each other, especially our children. We have been teaching our children to memorize created histories, to stress over tests, to obey without thinking, to ignore their inner voices of wisdom and to fear. Yes, we teach them to fear! And now that fear is manifesting the very evil it abhors. Your call to action is, I believe, exactly what these school tragedies are calling for. What does it mean when a child sets herself on fire at their school? Is this not a message – when are we going to listen? How many children need to die before we make significant changes? We must turn our grief into positive action to create better systems for our children. We must LOVE our children more! We must not allow them to be abused as we’ve done in the past. Are we not seeing an onslaught of atrocities against children? Can’t we see the correlation between all these tragedies? What have we been doing to our children because of our own fear? Why do we protect the adults who abuse them? The time is NOW! You are right, Noah, we can NOT let this go unanswered. We must take action and continue, in love, to change the way we do business in so many areas. That child that lived in darkness for his 20 years called out in his own pain, through the only way he knew – violence; because our society teaches violence. We say killing is wrong, yet we allow our governments to kill. We fill the air with violence everywhere. We teach how to kill! We let them “play” by killing!! What do we expect? The Law of Attraction has so much to teach us if we would only embrace it. We can not eradicate evil by killing, or by protesting or tightening our “security”. It can not be destroyed by any means other than by love. In love we shall focus our attention on what we want and create a world of peace. We shall create schools where we teach children to love without fear, to be aware and to think for themselves following their innate guidance, to learn what honor means, respect, responsibility and forgiveness. We need to learn from the children, the pure of heart who have not been tainted by the fear we instill into them! We have been blinded, but now (I pray) we see. We shall turn the page and harbor fear no longer; let go of our old ways and create anew. Let the children lead the way to a world of peace – through love. The time is now. We can do it, together.
Thank you, Noah.
Noah, thank you for your beautiful post. My heart has been with that beautiful boy who played his tenor sax in our living room when he was in high school, and with his family. When I spoke about this unspeakable event at the New Haven Zen Center yesterday, I remembered this: Muhammed said that Big Jihad means to address the war in our hearts; the 23 Psalm says “Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”; Buddha says that to be alive and conscious is difficult, that getting wrapped up in these difficulties causes suffering, that suffering can dispel of its own accord if we let it resolve. These are all the same teachings in very different language and traditions! We must start to engage this unavoidable war in our hearts as individuals and to demand that the masters of government and industry engage it too in order to truly address the war on the streets at home and abroad- rather than mouthing false religious platitudes and continuing with the killing of our souls and our children.
Thank you for saying what we are feeling and not able to express as clearly as you have done here.
I pray that her death is not in vain. We need to seek peace, and pursue it. And study war no more.
I love you.
Thank you Noah.
Thank you for your beautiful words in a wake-up call. You are so right, this is the time to finally change to a peaceful world.
Thank you for sharing this Noah.
Noah, my deepest condolences to all who loved Ana, especially Jimmy, Nelba, and Isaiah. My prayers are with you and Ana’s family, and with all those who lost loved ones in this tragedy. I hope that this will be a wake up call, too, and that people will realize that love is not optional nor a preference, it’s what we were created to do, and it is the highest Law. Peace to all…
Noah, we love you, and no one person can create the words of magic that flow from your soul. We are thinking about all of the children, and about your family and send love and light and forever peace. Tara
Thank you, Noah.
Carry on with love and with soulful music. Our world is so hungry.
Beautiful post and so from the heart. I have a 6 year old myself and had a scare on Friday when he didn’t come home on the bus… (this on the heels of hearing the news at Newtown). I found him at the school waiting for me thank God, but I can’t imagine looking for him and looking for him only to receive terrible news. It would completely devastate me. I feel for this family and my deepest condolences go to them and their friends and close ones, but particularly to their son as well… so hard for children to understand what is going on in this world. How do you explain to him what has happened to his sister and that he will not be seeing her again? Heart breaking.
Noah, I am speechless at the eloquent immediacy of your pain and wisdom and the inestimable loss suffered by your dear friends and others that day. Your words and the sweet photo brought me to more tears and a greater sense of connectedness.
Yes, the music of the 60s buoyed all of us and made us hope. In New Haven, living for so many years at Rochdale with your parents and scores of others, we had what your mom only recently called “the best years of our lives”. Community, friendship, caring and joy were a part of that experience. How can we ever explain the great difference caring makes? That’s in the music you’ve been teaching and what is so absent in the lives of young people now. I see its absence in my college students who don’t seem connected to much but the moment and chatter on their hand-held communicators. And, there I am, child of the 60s, pouring my heart into awakening them to the endless joy of reading.
Sing on, dear, dear Noah, and bless you and Kate, Love, Marilyn
Noah, thank you for this post. I saw Kate this afternoon, and I wish both of you some recovery time.
I was truly crushed when I first heard about what had happened in Newtown, CT. I was at work at my desk here in Baltimore, MD when I first saw the breaking news on the internet. Horrible!! So many babies, I thought. When I found out that one of them was Jimmy’s child, I was truly heart-broken. I remembered bartending at the old Main & Hopewell in Glastonbury, CT and first hearing Jimmy play. Nelba was always in the audience. Jimmy would play tunes he had composed for her. They were so in love. Please extend my sympathies to both of them. Tell them that I care and am deeply sorry for their loss.
I am sorry for the loss of this beautiful child Ana. My daily prayers are with this family and the others facing this tragedy.
You said it perfectly.
This class at Choate is you all over. Great work!