Most parents are very good at comforting their children. They look under beds and in closets to prove no monsters are lurking. They dry tears, hug and hold on, because they know instinctively that the words they say are never as important as the acts of kindness parents perform on a daily hourly, moment-by-moment basis. That's why they became parents, because parenting equals love. And most of the time our children's fears aren't our own. So we can handle them calmly and rationally. We say, "See you in the morning light," and mean it.
But the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. last Friday are unprecedented and unimaginable. Although there have been acts of violence before at schools, the magnitude of the shootings at Sandy Hook put us all in uncharted territory. And in our fast paced, Wikipedia world we want to make sense of the senseless now. Well, we can’t. But there are some things we can do. Beginning with ourselves.
1. We can act like the brave teacher at Sandy Hook, who hid all her students in a closet, telling them everything was going to be alright, even though she didn’t think it would be. She kept them calm by maintaining order, by telling them to smile, by telling them she loved them. What she did was powerful, and those children not only survived because of her, they also walked out of that closet with at least a small amount of equilibrium. And comfort.
2. We can listen to the news reports in small amounts. It’s normal and necessary to know what’s going on in our world, but not to get hooked on every sound bite, some of which are often wrong. Now more than ever we need to monitor our children’s screen time. We may even want to unplug for a few days.
3. We can talk to our children about the other acts of courage and kindness that transpired at Sandy Hook. The custodian who warned the teachers and children, the first responders who got the other children out and told them to hold on to each other and keep their eyes closed. We can help them to focus on the good that transpired that day, not the horrible.
4. We can realize that the quick fix fixes nothing. That we need to hit re-send, over and over again, in our prayers for ourselves and others. Yes prayers, even atheists can pray, because by prayer I mean thinking thoughts of love and kindness about the people of Newtown. And that’s exactly what I mean.
5. Finally, a practical suggestion: The tragedy occurred on Dec. 14. Two months later will be Valentine's Day. What if your family sent a Valentine card, to Sandy Hook Elementary School, or the town of Newtown? Just a card signed by you and your kids that says, "We love you and we’re still grieving your loss. We’re thinking of you, we’re keeping you in our prayers." The words won’t really matter. It’s the thought, the act, the love, that counts.