A Time for the Innocents

“I love you.”

They’ve always been the last words I say to Heather as I leave. Sometimes whispered into a darkened bedroom. Sometime called over the shoulder in a hurried dash. But always there.

It’s partly an inheritance from my parents, partly a consequence of my job. In 14 years, I’ve covered fires and floods, crashes and crimes. I’ve learned how fast life can happen, how little warning there can be.

How little time to say goodbye.


Lullay, lullay, Thou little tiny child,

Bye, bye, lully, lullay,

Lullay , thou little tiny child,

Bye, bye, lully, lullay.

— “Coventry Carol”


If you study a calendar long enough – a good calendar, anyway – some odd dates start to crop up, each with their own importance. Many of my Welsh-descended friends in Emporia kept March 1, St. David’s Day. Some of my English ones still “remember, remember, the fifth of November” that marks the Guy Fawkes plot.

There’s a day in honor of pi (and probably of pie), a day in honor of punctuation, even a day for talking like a pirate. Between the serious and the silly, there seems to be a time for everything.

Including Dec. 28. The church holiday that used to be called Childermas.

Where it’s observed now, it’s usually named the Feast of the Innocents.


O sisters, too, how may we do,

For to preserve this day,

This poor youngling for whom we sing,

Bye, bye, lully, lullay.


The Feast of the Innocents commemorates a part of the Christmas story that sometimes gets glossed over. It’s a part where Herod, in fear of a king who may supplant him and in rage at his betrayal by the magi, orders the male infants of Bethlehem slain. To escape, Mary and Joseph flee to Egypt with the baby Jesus.

The facts of the story have been debated for a long time, in part because it only appears in the book of Matthew and nowhere else. Still, it’s not hard to see how others could have missed it. Bethlehem was a small town; any such order would have affected at most 20 children.

Twenty children.

How familiar, and painful, that sounds now.


Herod the king, in his raging,

Charged he hath this day,

His men of might in his own sight,

All young children to slay.


I still don’t know what to say about Sandy Hook.

How can you?

These are the acts for which the word “madness” was created. Acts that steal words, that rend thought, leaving behind only confusion, rage and heartbreak.

Part of me wants to rage. To argue, to find an answer that will fix things. And I’m human, I’ve had that debate with friends over different pieces of the puzzle: gun control, mental health funding, all the pieces we’ve come to know so well.

Heaven knows we need an answer. We probably need several. None of them simple enough, or pithy enough, to be captured in the too-brief words of a too-ephemeral column.

But I feel, I believe, I know in my heart that the first step has to be to remember.

Remember how you feel now.

Remember the pain of the mother whose child won’t come home with a picture for the refrigerator.

Remember the hurt of the child whose friend won’t be coming over to play.

Remember the helplessness and the desire to do something.

Because only if enough of us keep that desire will something happen.

The feeling will dim. It’s inevitable, probably even necessary. But it can’t be allowed to die altogether.

Not in a world where the choices too often are remember – or be reminded.


That woe is me, poor Child for Thee,

And ever mourn and sigh,

For thy parting neither say nor sing,

Bye, bye, lully, lullay.


One last thought. Please. Remember your own innocents as well. It’s so easy to take them for granted, so easy to forget how quickly normal can turn upside down. Easy to let the wondrous become routine.


Hold them close, this Christmas and after. Always remind yourself how much they mean, how much you’d give for them. Give it, when you have to.

And always, always say “I love you” at the door. Just in case.