Bearing Witness

Image 2Yesterday I attended the funeral of Noah Samuel Pozner. He was 6 years old. He was killed on Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary. I did not know Noah. I am the co-Service Unit Manager of Girl Scouts here in Darien. Noah’s sister Sophia is a Girl Scout. On Sunday, Kari Kaplan, the Director of Member Services of Girl Scouts of CT received an email inviting Girl Scouts to Noah’s funeral. When Kari emailed this invitation to all of the Service Unit Managers, I knew this was where I needed to be. I had processed through enough of my own stuff on Sunday at one of my “A Continuing Journey” workshops that I knew I could be present at this service.

Today I bear witness in writing about my experience.

I will try to keep this not about me. I will try to keep it about my observations, about my experience. I will speak of myself where I have connection, but that is just to make this observation more personal.

Noah’s family’s grief is their own. It is theirs to share or not share, not mine. Vdogblog.com is Victoria Haller’s blog. Victoria is Noah’s aunt. She is also on Twitter. It is her place to share what she wants to, not mine.

Ahead of us in line to enter there were teenagers. I notice one was carrying a very small teddy bear. There was another woman wearing a green and white ribbon. Kari lives in Danbury, a neighboring town to Newtown. She had been sharing news with me on the drive to the funeral home in Fairfield. I asked her what I suspected and she confirmed those were the school colors of Sandy Hook Elementary. The pic above is my green and white ribbon I made today.

When Kari and I entered the funeral home to see the family we first greeted and hugged Noah’s oldest sister. She said to me, “Oh, for Sophia.”

I then hugged Noah’s mother, Veronique.

In that hug, I met her one mother to a grieving mother. I sent her all the love, support, energy, concern we all have for her through my arms and through my eyes. I introduced myself, identified myself as being with Girl Scouts and she thanked me for coming.

I then greeted and hugged Noah’s father, Lenny, and older brother, Michael, who both also thanked me for coming.

As Kari and I found our place on the wall to wait for the service to begin, I started to process. It took me a little bit as I at first thought Noah’s oldest sister who greeted us was Sophia. But why did she say Sophia’s name? I don’t know Sophia, either, just that she is a sister Girl Scout, which is why I was there. I don’t think Sophia was actually in the room.

I don’t know the whys and it does not matter.

I had hugged Danielle, Noah’s oldest sister.

A man came up to us and offered us his seat. We said we were fine, but he said he wasn’t going to sit, someone else could and took his place on the wall next to us. We got to talking and I learned he was from the same synagogue as the Pozner family. He lives in Sandy Hook. His daughter is a Sandy Hook Elementary alumna. We talked quite a bit. What struck me the most of what he said was, “Four days ago, no one knew of my small town. Now the world knows of it and not for the right reasons.” Aside from shaking hands when we greeted, I touched his shoulder a few times as we talked. In that touch I was passing along the condolences of the world.

We watched first responders come in to pass along their condolences to the family.

I noticed Michael carrying that small teddy bear I had seen in that teenage girl’s hand.

The room filled, beyond standing room only, the lobby was also filled with people standing.

Noah’s twin, Arielle, came in and sat first between her grandparents and then upon her father’s lap. Yes, he is a twin and she is only 6, too. Arielle survived. My niece and nephew are twins, they are only 5. I just spent 4 days with them in DisneyLand. I can’t even imagine. The connection Arielle and Noah have will never be severed.

Sophia was in Sandy Hook Elementary, as well. She, too, survived.

Rabbi Shaul Praver came in and the service began. For those of you who watched the service on TV on Sunday night when the President spoke, Rabbi Praver is the rabbi who was part of this service. I didn’t watch the service since I was driving home from the ACJ workshop in Massachusetts, but Kari did and she told me about it.

Rabbi Praver opened by chanting a prayer then a reading. He said, “I believe there has to be some light, some great thing that will emerge from this great darkness.”

After this opening, the most amazing thing happened, Noah’s mother spoke.

Veronique spoke of missing the loud clomping of Noah’s feet on the floor. She talked of his joy, his light, his mischievousness. She said Noah wanted to be a doctor, a soldier, a taco factory manager. We all laughed. Tacos were his favorite food. He wanted to make sure the world had enough tacos, that we would never run out.

She talked of longing for the day when she would see him again. But not today as she still had a lot of “mommying” to do to Michael, Danielle, Sophia and Arielle.

I could never do justice and honor to her words, but the respect I have for this mother is endless. The gift Veronique gave to him that day, to herself, to her children, to all of us.

IMG_0657

A friend read a “Song for Noah” written by Danielle. Michael spoke. His brother was hoarse and said he might not make it through, but he did. UPDATE: I now follow Farine (Noah’s grandmother’s blog). In her blog she said “Then he read a poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye:

Do not stand at my grave and weep
I am not there. I do not sleep. 
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.

Lizzie West put this poem to music in 10 Prayer. A song my friend Jamie Thurber sent to me when my mother passed.

His uncle, Alexis Haller, gave the eulogy. He related how Noah would have been a wonderful husband, a loving father. How he would have contributed so much to our world. He told of how Noah would tell his sisters how he worked in a Taco Factory and when they asked how he got there, he would just give them a funny look, a look like it was something only he knew.

Alexis spoke of how when Veronique would tell Noah she loved him, Noah would reply, “I love you more!”

He spoke of how Noah would have been the backbone of his family for years to come.

“And all of us, including the family, the community, the country and the world, can honor Noah by loving each other and taking care of each other. That’s what Noah would have wanted.”

Rabbi Praver had many words of wisdom.

What most struck me was when he spoke of the Jewish reaction to the Holocaust. They did not strike Germany with bombs and attack the perpetrators. They made a banquet for their enemy. They came together and thrived. They created Israel.

He challenged Noah’s family (and us) to thrive. To honor Noah by finding a way to make it better, to effect change.

Rabbi Praver spoke of how Judaism believes in G-d’s grand design. So, what is the meaning of this great, horrific tragedy if not to create change.

He remembered how we had something special after 9/11 in this great nation of ours. We’ve lost that. We all came together, unified. Many in the name of G-d. Now we’ve found it again and we cannot lose it another time. Let us use it to make change. This crosses political lines, all faiths and beliefs.

He asked us each to take a personal vow before we went through those exit doors to do something. To do something to make the world different. To make it a world where there would never have to be another funeral for a child struck down in a senseless mass assault. I made my vow.

Then those seated rose for the Kaddish.

After the Kaddish, the rabbi said he saw teachers there. He asked them to identify themselves by raising their hands. He thanked them for all of us. All that they did that day to save lives. Noah’s mother cried out, “G-d bless you, G-d bless you.” They had saved two of her daughters that day.

He then thanked all of us for coming. No matter what our faiths or our beliefs for coming to ease the Pozner family’s burden. “For that is what you are doing, you are taking away a small piece of the burden upon this family.”

Then the family left the funeral home. The pall bearers took Noah’s casket out. Rabbi Praver followed davening. I focused on that small casket, the sounds as Noah’s body passed by me.

What I picked up on, my feelings, my emotions here and later I am not writing about now. This post is about bearing witness. Yesterday I bore witness for all of you.

As Kari and I started to walk back to her car, we came upon this:IMG_0654

We decided we would wait. We would wait and honor Noah as the hearse carrying his body proceeded to the internment site, since we were not attending. We would wait as his family passed us by. We would honor them. Pay homage to them.

I sneaked away to take the pic of Noah’s tribute above. When I came back, Kari said, “Look.” She pointed out, each pair of motorcycles was from a different town here in Fairfield County. Wow, that moved me. We waited. Kari was freezing, but she gutted it out. This was important.

We watched Noah’s body pass in the hearse. I said good bye. I continued the chant. The Chamma Ling, Buddhist purification practice I had done the previous evening with my ACJ group. A practice that purifies negativity, often used with the dead or dying. That is all I will say here. Because, again, I am trying to write this post not about me.

As we walked back to the car, I pointed out to Kari a man who had tied one end of the American flag to a street sign. He was holding the other end out so the processional would pass by our flag, this symbol.

I have taken my vow, Noah. I will honor you.

I tried to write this post not about me, but to bear witness.

#LoveforNoah

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Kara Glover Billhardt

11 thoughts on “Bearing Witness

  1. I sit here reading this with the tears streaming down my face, we as a Girls Scout community thank you for bearing witness for us. I know how hard this must of been for you and i know there is just so much more you want to say, so if at any point you want to talk, have a glass of vino or just sit let me know!!

    • Thank you, Sandy. I did try to keep my personal feelings unspoken in this one. Wasn’t what it was about. I’ve been thinking about you a lot. Sueann, Rebecca, you and I should all try to get together for that glass very soon.

    • Thank you, Rebecca. You and Kari, please feel free to forward on to whomever you like. I will send it to Mary now. My photographer for the blog, Kara sent that to me this morning. She said it has green and white, stairway to the light and the American flag. I never use the word perfect, but this was the perfect photo for this post.

  2. So very touching Julie. A heart breaking event. As a mother AND a mother of twins, it struck a chord. Thank you for sharing this with us. Shanti

    Sent from my iPad

  3. Dear Julie,

    This is such a moving reflection. You did a wonderful job bearing witness and honoring the grief of the family.

    I wish you and your girls a peaceful new year.

    Blessings, ReBecca

    Sent from my iPhone

  4. Julie,
    Thank you for bearing witness and sharing the grief. There are no words to express the grief that we all share at this moment.

    • You are welcome, Aditya. It is I, too, who is thankful to the Pozner family for welcoming us all to grieve along with this amazing and beautiful family. They display grace and love for Noah in all they do. They will thrive, as Rabbi Praver said.

  5. Julie,
    Thank you for bearing witness to Noah’s funeral. This beautiful child is gone but not forgotten. Forever in my heart.

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