A FATHER WRITES: “Tomorrow’s Children” held a different meaning for the grieving father who sobbed this afternoon as he told the veteran police officer at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital that his infant son will be taken off life support and die tomorrow, five days short of Christmas.
I know the officer, one of many who collected toys and other gifts and brought them to the ailing innocents as part of this year’s annual PBA Toy Drive – easily the largest in its more than 20-year history.
He’s as tough as they come, a good cop, a proud father, someone whose name is synonymous with caring and generosity.
“Everyone around here knows who he is,” an employee at the hospital for children with cancer and blood disorders told me. “He brings a lot of love.”
In his eyes, though, you could see the heartbreak.
“It’s tough,” this rock of a sentry whispered. “This can be really hard.”
Several members of the “Santa Response Team” who brought toys and other gifts to the hospital are still in their 20s or early 30s. A bunch of them had been there before. And although they hurt, too, their day hadn’t been shaken like my friend’s.
So many people did so much good in the wakes of Hurricane Sandy and the horror at Sandy Hook Elementary. To see the Closter firehouse filled this morning with mountains of toys, collected and sorted by what seemed like hundreds of volunteers of all stripes (literally), restores any faith anyone could have lost in others.
This year, the list of recipients was extended to include folks in Moonachie and Little Ferry, at the Jersey Shore and in Newtown. Massive donations addressed that need.
It’s as if the dedication of law enforcement officers throughout Bergen County – and into Passaic and Rockland – rose up as a mighty counterpunch to the evil that sometimes drops us to our collective knees.
The goodness was spread by the various vendors who came and fed the volunteers, by the loved ones who helped collect and sort and do whatever they could, by the soldiers from the Teaneck Armory — as always — and by Closter Police Officer Louie Ruiz, who, for what’s believed to be the eighth year in a row, played Santa Claus.
A group of young footballers coached by New Jersey State Police Trooper Jim Dobak happened to be at the hospital at the same time today, delivering presents they collected for Tomorrow’s Children. As Ruiz – ahem, Santa — walked in, a couple of the little ones ran over and hugged him.
It’s a cliché, but in times like these, we need a little Christmas – and more than a little Santa.
Saying that random acts of kindness such as these will help overcome our circumstances is over-simplifying, of course. We can try and boost the spirits of surviving siblings and parents, as the PBA Toy Drive does so beautifully every year. We can insist that more attention be paid to the troubled monsters who end up destroying countless lives.
Still, for all we do, and all hope to do, nothing can bring back the innocents we’ve lost.
It’s a toll we all pay at some point, one that’s being shared this week across the globe – and, today, in the halls of the kids’ hospital in Hackensack. Yet it’s also one that some people pay for a very long time.
What songwriter Steve Earle wrote is true: “Love would hold no charms if it wasn’t for the pain.” As any scientist will tell you, we cannot have the light without the dark.
It’s the price of living.
I surprisingly found myself in the middle of Friday’s coverage of the Newtown massacre — as the very first to report that CNN and other media outlets identified the wrong Lanza brother. Despite my years of doing this kind of work, under pressure of a deadline — and, most of all, wanting to set things right — it literally was too close for comfort.
When it was over, I snatched up my only son,who’s 6, and held him close. We ate together, slept together, laughed together. He was delighted. I was overjoyed.
Yet one of us had seen enough of this world to know how unforgiving it can sometimes be.
I know that look that my badge-wearing friend gave me at the Sanzari Hospital today.
I’m certain I had the same one last weekend.