On this week every December, the cover of PEOPLE magazine is usually devoted to a review of the personalities and events that shaped the past 12 months. It’s a fun package, and you will indeed find it inside. But the Dec. 14 tragedy in Newtown, Conn., led us to change our plans this year and to honor instead the lives lost that Friday morning.
Two days after the shooting, President Obama went to Newtown and led an interfaith prayer service. He was clearly moved, as he had been when he addressed the nation from the White House hours after the tragedy. It was a seldom-seen side of the man that we at PEOPLE had also glimpsed during our annual interview with the President and the First Lady just a week earlier.
This year’s conversation with the Obamas covered the expected topics: budget negotiations, a second term agenda. Seated close together on a yellow settee in the White House Map Room, the First Couple also spoke about their daughters, Malia and Sasha, and growing up in the White House. Yes, they’d love to visit more national parks or foreign countries before the second term is over, but the girls are so busy and, you know, they grow up so fast.
At that, the President suddenly grew wistful. Choosing his words slowly, he seemed to be charting his own emotions. “There’s something about daughters that breaks your heart,” he said. “When I think about the fact Malia will be out of my house in four years, it chokes me up.”
By this point, whatever murmuring there had been among the gathered aides had fallen silent. Mrs. Obama was rapt. Forget John Boehner; it was time itself the President was negotiating with. “So the pace at which they’re growing up, the finite amount of time that you have … is something that can hit me hard sometimes.”
The moment passed, the next question was asked. But for an instant, this father of a 14-year-old girl revealed the bittersweet bond he shares with parents everywhere—a bond now cherished in the aftermath of that terrible Connecticut morning.
In tragedy and in celebration, we at People believe in sharing our experiences. We thank the Obamas for sharing theirs, and offer our condolences to the people of Newtown, and wish them the strength to carry on.
LARRY HACKETT, MANAGING EDITOR