Saving Children in Novels and in Life

My son David points out that the heroic act by one of the Newtown teachers, Victoria Soto, in giving her life to protect her first grade students parallels the heroism of the chief character in one of my favorite novels, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Without imagining exactly what would happen, Owen prepared all his life for July 8, 1968. On that day in the Phoenix airport, he absorbed the full force of a grenade that a crazy teenager had aimed at a dozen Vietnamese children, who had just arrived in the US as refugees. Earlier in the novel, Owen had prayed over the grave of his friend’s mother: “Into paradise may the angels lead you.” Later his friend used those words to pray for Owen. What a fitting prayer that is for the 20 children murdered in Connecticut. In addition to prayer, I am seeking solace in music and in action.

Another novel that depicts a school shooting and its aftermath is Empire Falls by Richard Russo. In this novel, the high school principal in a small town in Maine steps between a deranged student and his intended victim, giving his life to save hers. Both fictional characters recall Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, who goes to the guillotine in place of Charles Darnay, thereby giving Darnay the chance to be a father:  “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

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