candles votive

I’m saddened that my first blog in my new platform covers such a difficult topic.

This recent tragedy at Sandy Hook has haunted my nights, keeping me from sleeping well. I keep imagining what the first responders witnessed, and it seems unbearable. I question how I would react in a similar circumstance, hoping I’d be as brave and protective as these heroic teachers were.

I wanted to do something; we all want to do something. Because we cannot fight what happened directly—we can’t rescue those souls already lost to us, sometimes we fight with others because we need something tangible to fight. In the midst of our emotional outrage, we’re becoming polarized instead of coming together.  We’re reacting, not responding.

Too often when something unthinkable occurs, we understandably react immediately—out of fear, anger, pain.  I had flashes of 9/11, as did many others. In 2001, we reacted quickly with the Patriot Act, which still contains some measures that make me feel that the terrorists were able to chip away at some of our cherished American freedoms.

Instead of reacting, we should be responding thoughtfully and compassionately. This is not the time for us to be polarized—this is a time for us to come together. I understand the anger and feelings of helplessness that drive some of the current vitriolic debates on social media, but I’m saddened that this is our reaction.

I worry that we allow perpetrators of violence to change our way of life. When we do that, we allow them to win. Superintendent Dr David Gentile’s thoughtful piece champions a joyful life of freedom over continually increasing security to the point of essentially imprisoning our children. Where’s the line between being reasonably prepared and losing our way of life? It’s a good question for us to discuss.

Preventing future incidents like Sandy Hook will take a multi-pronged approach: removing the glamour from our violent culture, tighter gun control, better mental health awareness and treatment, bullying prevention, some precautions that balance safety and living a full life, and committing to focus on memorializing the victims, not the perpetrators so that harming innocents will have less appeal for future disturbed individuals, who are in so much pain and want to take others out with them in order to give some meaning to their lives and their deaths. Even if we address all of these potential contributing factors though, we still cannot protect our children from every possible violent incident.

I love the Mr. Rogers quote circulating about “looking for the helpers” in these tragic situations because it focuses us on what can be done, and that even in the midst of horror, there will always be those who come to help. On the first day of school, several of my colleagues at Perry Hall High School ran toward a student with a gun averting what could have been a similar larger-scale tragedy. I’m proud to have known so many helpers who emerged that day and in the ensuing days.

In the end, we may be trying to make too much sense of a senseless, destructive act. Instead of this tragedy causing so much divisiveness, we need to hold our loved ones, reach out to those in pain, and work together to heal our nation.