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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Singing the praises of niece's bravery at Super Bowl

Don’t you just hate it when someone reminds you that you’re not all that brave?

It’s actually not that difficult for people to do that with me.

I’m a big whimp.

Scared of dogs. Afraid to drive in snow. Leery of small, confined spaces.

But the big one is one you probably also share — fear of speaking in public.

I was doing pretty well with it lately, with a few short talks under my belt.

Then, on Jan. 19, I had to stand up and speak in front of the 56 people who signed up for Lighten Up in 2013.

Our six-month weight-loss contest kicks off at LEAN Living in Concord Township, and every year I go over the rules, crack a few jokes and talk everyone into standing on the scale for a few minutes.

I’m notorious for crying at the drop of a hat, and I think I got about 40 seconds into my greeting, which includes me saying how proud I am of those who say they want to be in the contest.

I caught myself before it got too far. Jaime Brenkus, owner of LEAN Living, thought I was kidding when I told him before his first year as a sponsor that I probably would cry once I started talking.

He knows better now. He said I’m doing better these days because the spurts are shorter now.

Every summer when we tape our candidate interviews at Lakeland Community College, I try to focus on the fact that there are only a couple of candidates, two cameramen, a producer and Jim Collins there with me. I wipe out the fact that hundreds of people will be viewing the sessions on TV at home.

I refuse to even think that eventually, after all the repeated showings, there might be a few thousand.
I can’t even wrap my head around the numbers that saw my niece singing on Sunday night at the Super Bowl.

According to the Nielsen Ratings Service, an average of 108.4 million watched Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans.

It marked the third biggest audience in television history.

And, there, in the middle of it, was Emily, along with 25 of her fellow Sandy Hook Elementary classmates, belting out “America the Beautiful.”

I’d heard a week before that she was going to be singing before the game. Jennifer Hudson was a bit of a surprise, and I think a last-minute addition.

I was threatened with, well, something I could never quite figure out, if I put it on Twitter or Facebook or wrote about it in my column beforehand.

I’d like to blame my brother for my lack of column last week, but in reality I just ran out of time before a trip to New York City.

The night of my arrival in the Big Apple, I flipped on the 6 o’clock news and saw a story about the choir’s performance at the Superdome.

For the record: I kept it pretty quiet — someone else blabbed the big secret!

During the call disclosing the big secret, my brother said that the song had played over and over about 50 times at their house in Sandy Hook that morning, and that Emily asked him to load it on her iPod, to ensure proper exposure to the song.

As the week moved forward, I thought more and more about Emily walking out onto the field, standing up in front of more than 75,000 people, and opening her mouth to sing.

As I said before, how brave!

I didn’t even factor in the television audience until Sunday, when I thought about how many people were like me, sitting at home watching the game on TV with friends and family, stilled for a moment from the thrills of the pregame, the commercials and a vast buffet of food and drinks to listen to these youngsters who’ve been through oh, so much.

Just six weeks before, they were running from their school building into the cold of December without their coats after a gunman opened fire, killing 20 of their fellow classmates and six teachers.

Several of the students among the 26 on hand Sunday were siblings of those who died.

Emily was in the library, safe from the bullets, but, like her classmates, forever scarred by the horror of that day.

The NFL’s invitation to be part of the pregame festivities in New Orleans sent Emily and the other youngsters, each with a parent, down south for four days. They had dress rehearsals that prepared them for the noise of the fireworks that followed the National Anthem, and got to meet Beyonce, in addition to Hudson.

On the New York news show a few days before, one of the parents admitted that while it was exciting for his son, that he’ll never forget the reason they were going in the first place.

No one will.

But we should take solace in the words of Sandy Hook Elementary, which released a statement just after the group’s performance:

“We have come to New Orleans to represent the Sandy Hook family and the community of Newtown, Connecticut. Our wish is to demonstrate to America and the world that, ‘We are Sandy Hook and we choose love.’ ”

And, speaking just for me, I could feel the love.
Twitter: @Lauranh


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