During those moments, often between wakefulness and falling asleep, when we have some of our most freeform and random thoughts, I have sometimes wondered what it would be like to have a birthday on a holiday. Would both be celebrated on the same day? Would the birthday be influenced by the holiday? If I were a young child, would I be happy or saddened by this? Some holidays, in particular, would be extremely interesting to share a birthday with. Like Thanksgiving, or even more so, Halloween. If I was eight years old again, what sheer joy I would have to be trick or treating on my birthday!
These musings were simply that, until I acquainted myself with Chase Kowalski. Chase turned eight this past October 31st, but he wasn’t able to celebrate on Halloween. Nor was his family. In fact, for them, and all who knew Chase, Halloween won’t be seen again as a day filled with mischief, magnificence, and wonder. Instead, it will be a poignant reminder of what isn’t anymore, and unfortunately, what has now become. Chase Kowalski was one of twenty-six learners killed at Sandy Hook Elementary a year ago, twenty-six learners who even with their varied roles and live experiences believed that schools were not only meant to be places of learning, but places of safety. Clearly there is much work to be done.
When a person’s life is taken early, we say it is before his or her time. That comment is often made in an attempt to show sympathy and ease the pain of those who knew that person well. Yet that thought, as sincere as it may be, is an understatement for the twenty first-graders who perished at the hands of one person whose motives still are not clear.
I never had the pleasure of knowing Chase. What I know of him I have learned from various websites, a Facebook memorial page, and the commonalities that all parents of young children, regardless of background, share. I’ve learned that Chase loved the outdoors, was an avid bike rider, builder and tinkerer, and had recently completed his first triathlon (what a feat for a first grader!). As a parent, I know that he was a child who was loved deeply, who loved to be with family and friends, and who loved learning. Even without personally knowing him, of these I have no doubt.
A person’s life is like a house. As we age, we get to enter more rooms, and decorate them in whatever fashion we please. Sometimes the furnishings are chosen by us. At other points, we have no say. Yet, by the time we’re old, we’ve explored the house in full, and for better or worse, have come to accept it, faults and all. But for the very young, who are just starting to explore the first floor, and can’t even imagine what else there is to see, there is so much to learn. This speaks to the enormous tragedy brought upon Chase and his peers. Their homes will never be fully explored and will never be fully furnished. And that’s not fair.
As a society, we must make sure that we do everything in our power to prevent schools from being places of violence. As educators we must do what we do best: teach and learn with others to make sure that our buildings and districts are safe. As members of PLCs and connected leaders and learners we must share what we’ve learned with the world at large and stakeholders in our communities. And as individuals, we must take care of those around us, so our children can literally and figuratively build their homes, so that we may, someday, find ourselves in them.
To learn more about Chase, his family, and the Memorial Fund created in his honor, please visit: https://www.facebook.com/ChaseKowalskiMemorialFund