Jimmy Greene (jimmygreene.com) is a jazz saxophonist and music teacher based outside New York City. He lost his six-year-old daughter, Ana Grace, in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. He and his wife started the Ana Grace Project (anagraceproject.org) in her memory.
I see you out there, young man—thirteen years old, shooting hoops on the playground all by yourself. You’ve always been fascinated with what the future holds for you. Well, I’ve got a lot to share with you, son.
I’m proud of you, Jimmy. You’re probably not aware of this, but as a young black man from a broken home, the odds you’ll end up in prison are greater than the odds you’ll end up in graduate school. You know, your mom and stepfather work really hard to provide for you so that you can get busy dreaming big dreams. Keep dreaming, Jimmy. I know you feel a lot of pressure to excel but know that it’s OK to make mistakes; it’s OK to not have the right answer; it’s OK to show your feelings, however ugly they might be. Listen to that voice, though, Jimmy, that voice saying you’ll be a musician—because you will. Those closest to you will still love you and be there for you.
You’ll soon meet a man named Jackie McLean, a legendary jazz saxophonist who will inspire you to dive headfirst into music at the Artists Collective, and fall in love with jazz. Soon thereafter, you’ll meet a young flute player named Nelba. Through your mutual love of playing music, your lives will be forever joined. She’s funny and smart and so talented—did I mention she’s gorgeous, too? Don’t ever forget the way she makes you feel. The love God has kindled in you for one another will help you through some unimaginably tough days ahead.
You’re going to live out your dream, son. After school you will move from your Hartford home to the Big Apple, travel the world performing with lots of your musical heroes, and make lots of recordings, playing the saxophone. As tough as a musician’s life can be, God will always make a way for you. Your faith in Him, especially in times of trouble, will give you peace beyond understanding.
You’ll be blessed with two children: two beautiful, talented, loving children. They will melt your heart and make traveling so much seem less attractive. You’ll move the family to Canada after accepting a full-time university position so that you can be a bigger part of Isaiah’s and Ana’s early years. Young man, make the most of every moment you have with those angels. Your three years in Winnipeg will be the last three years your beautiful family will remain fully intact.
You’ll eventually return home—a great academic position will open up at Western Connecticut State University and you’ll live much closer to your family back in Hartford and your performing career’s home base, New York City. Home will never be the same, though. Ana will be ripped from you—suddenly, violently, senselessly, and without warning: murdered in her first-grade classroom along with classmates and teachers, twenty-six in all. Your son will have made it out of that building alive, but you’ll cry out to God, “Why? How could you let this happen, Lord?” You’ll experience shock and trauma—you’ll wonder how you’ll ever go on without your baby, the one who had your cheeks and your smile.
I know you and your dad haven’t spoken very often lately. But know this, young man. On the worst day of your life, your father will pull you aside and give you the most helpful piece of advice a father could give. He’ll say, “Your grief is real and will be with you for a while. Grieving Ana’s murder will be a long process. Even so, don’t let your grief blind you to the beauty of all that you still have in your life at this moment right now, and the beauty of all God has in store for you in the future.”
Despite your pain and grief, there will be beauty all around you, Jimmy. The beauty of your wife and son, the beauty and generosity of your friends and family, the love and concern shown by the jazz community, your university colleagues, our nation’s president, and the tens of thousands of people from all walks of life who you will never have even met. And the music in you . . . you’ll find comfort in the beautiful melodies God has planted in your head. You’ll write new songs, you’ll play with renewed passion, and honor your daughter’s life with the music that ran through her veins, that runs through your veins too.
Your favorite Bible verse, John 16:33, reads: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Keep your eyes on the Lord, Jimmy. You, too, will overcome.