Memorial

Raindrops are seen on a figurine of an angel at a makeshift memorial honoring the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings last Dec. 17 (Reuters / December 17, 2012)

Let the fox go back to its sandy den.

Let the wind die down. Let the shed

go black inside. Let evening come.

— Jane Kenyon, from "Let Evening Come"

Grief, then acceptance of grief.

I'm in my early 70s. A half-century from now, will "Newtown" evoke for those now older than 6 the same sharp grief that "Dallas" still evokes in my generation?

I'm certain it will.

On Nov. 22, 1963, in the waning of the old year, the unfolding news of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy's assassination came to the nation at first as garbled, uncertain. Then it came in a growing flood of ever more horrendous details.

The media assault has increased a hundredfold since then.

Going back and forth between our televisions and computers, on Dec. 14, 2012, I watched helplessly as the number of the dead — the children! — mounted. My only grandson was 1-year-old. I couldn't stop his face and my children's childhood faces from being transposed onto the faces of the children of Newtown.

A year after Newtown we say "Newtown" in the same way we said "Dallas" then.

And similarities continue: the shock of the unexpected, the helpless anger and wish for revenge, the similar merciless, senseless imposition of an evil act of calculated will upon the fabric of an ordinary day. Confronted with the irrational, given no immediate enemy to blame, once again we cast about.

What can I do?

The world has changed. Who am I now?

After great pain a formal feeling comes —

The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs

— Emily Dickinson, from "After Great Pain …"

In 1963, guided by Jackie Kennedy with her understanding of symbolism, we were allowed to share, publicly, the Kennedys' personal grief.

In Newtown, it has been the same. The world has been invited in — paper snowflakes from Japan, all those stuffed toy animals. Newtown's fathers and mothers and other grief-stricken relatives and friends have been the bereaved standing at the door. The neighbor, wanting and needing to do something, brings the casserole. In bringing themselves to recognize the need of the public, the bereaved are somehow brought out of themselves.

… do you think you can shut grief in?