In the past 72 hours, with the actions of a man who I won’t glorify or glamorize by writing his name, countless lives have been changed; some by death and some by needing to live with the consequences. Unless you are on a complete news fast, you are aware that a 20 year old young man entered the Sandy Hook Elementary School in the neighborhood of Newtown, Connecticut and cut a swath of destruction that swept away 26 lives including his own. The details are still not completely clear and we can only take wild guesses at the motivating force behind the act of violence. Attempting to wrap our minds around the loss of the wee ones who were the lights of the lives of their families, as well as the courageous teachers and principal who did their best to protect them and lost their own in the process, is an exercise in futility. As a therapist over the past 30 years who has served mental health consumers; some with paranoia, some with extreme anger issues, I have theories about the darkness that consumed him before he made a choice that sent ripples world wide.
We can debate about what snuffed out those innocent lives; weapons that were owned by his “gun enthusiast” mother, that this mentally imbalanced man had access to those which were used to kill her as well, or the fear and anger that had him pulling the trigger multiple times for each of his ‘targets’. We can cast blame on the system that allows for weapons of mass destruction to easily get in the hands of people bent on devastation; we can feel helpless when those with psychiatric illness don’t get the treatment they so desperately need. Or we can additionally heal our own hearts and the violent thoughts that permeate our collective psyhche’s and make peace with our own destructive mental meanderings. We can use our rhetoric in anger with clenched fists or we can join hands in unity and extend them in healing.
As do all tragic happenings, this one shook us to our core. Anyone with a heart, can feel it symbolically breaking. Even the most stoic or steadfastly spiritual among us, have had some emotional response. A few days prior, many of my friends have reported varying levels of anxiety with no direct or obvious cause. Keep in mind, that they tend toward the intuitive/psychic. I have noticed the same, with rapid heart rate, a sense of hyper-vigilance, sitting and staring for moments at a time. So not me, since I like feeling productive and purposeful. Maybe just re-calibrating is what it is or preparing for this horrific event. My heart is with the families who will not see their children grow up or their classmates whose memories will be forever be imprinted by what they saw and heard. The good news is that people are rallying around them, as prayers and therapeutic interventions are swirling around them. I’ve read articles by mental health professionals, clergy and first responders who have ‘what to say’ advice to children who question what happened, as well as those who are grieving, regardless of age.
The gist of the articles is about comfort and not dismissing feelings, allowing for them to flow in healthy ways. Reassuring them that their emotional reactions are ‘normal’ and not a sign of illness. Spending more time together as a family. Supporting them in taking care of themselves physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Not spiritualizing away their feelings with statements such as “God needed another angel.”, which could frighten a child.
“How could God let this happen?” is a question that hammers at many people. I’m not convinced that God prevents or causes ‘acts of God’ as we humans are wont to refer to them. I believe in ‘life happening’ and sometimes these events are painful and inexplicable. They are like a spiritual colonic that flush us clean and shake us to our core. May they make us better and more loving people. And may we join hands in unity, rather than clench them in anger.