At sixes and sevens

To be “at sixes and sevens” is a British English idiom used to describe a state of confusion or disarray. The phrase probably derives from a complicated dice game called “hazard.” It is thought that the expression was originally “to set on cinq and six” (from the French numerals for five and six). These are the riskiest numbers to shoot for (to “set on”), and anyone who tried for them was considered careless or confused.

The first two of the 20 children gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School were buried in Newtown, Connecticut, today. Last evening at a town wide interfaith memorial service President Obama read the names of those who had died in the massacre.

Yesterday’s New York Times website carried the names and ages of the victims posted in stark white letters on a black rectangular background. The post was reminiscent of the black wall of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C. All of the murdered Newtown children were either 6 or 7 years of age.

A Hemingway quote from A Farewell to Arms came to mind:

“The sacrifices were like the stockyards of Chicago if nothing was done with the meat except to bury it. There were many words that you could not stand to hear and finally only the names of places had dignity. Certain numbers were the same way and certain dates and these with the names of the places were all you could say and have them mean anything.”

And then this:

“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

Today we were busy at the office. Of the 34 kids I saw, several were 6 or 7 years old. Some were blonde, some brunette; one was a redhead. Several were missing one or two front teeth. Many were sick; a few had come in for their yearly well-child exams. Without exception, all possessed the air of childhood innocence.

After a full morning, nearly exhausted, I retired to my desk. The afternoon schedule was packed. I wondered how I would make it through the rest of the day.

I pushed my chair back, rested my head atop my folded arms on my desk and closed my eyes for a short nap.

It was almost like being back in first grade again.

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