The Sandy Hook tragedy is a much larger conversation about mental illness, lack of mental health services, violence in our community, and connection.
No one in America feels at peace this week. Each time our country endures tragedy—whether it is the stripping away of homes, belongings and community, due to a storm or last week's heartbreaking loss of life in Newtown, Connecticut—we are reminded just how fragile, complicated—and, at times, senseless—our world can be.
Adults have enough difficulty processing these events—we grieve, we cry, we condemn, we rage, we vent... but what is a child supposed to do? How does a mother protect her children from growing up too fast? From absorbing confusing information? Is there any lesson to teach at this moment? I felt that it was important that my daughters hear about the tragedy from me and not on the playground, where things could be misconstrued. Even if the real story, itself, seems unbelievable, at least I could provide them with the correct words and help them understand that grieving is part of growing up.
When my three daughters came home from school last Friday, I chose to sit them down and explain that something awful had happened—that a young man had killed many people, including children. My 6-year-old asked, "With a real gun?" "Yes," I answered, "a real gun." Mind you, my daughters have never seen a real gun, so this was as foreign a topic as I've ever discussed with them. Then, my 8-year-old asked, "Why? And, did they catch him?" Finally, my oldest daughter looked me straight in the eye and asked, "How many kids died? And how old were they?" She wanted the specifics. She wanted to know how this could happen.
When my kids were infants and toddlers and I was a new parent, I spent each day trying to protect my kids from cursing, skinned knees, high fructose corn syrup, lack of sleep and every other recommendation made by other parents, parenting books and the experts. And yet, for the reality of a story like this, there is no protection, no solution and no explanation.
So where should we direct our focus? Our anger? How do we look for a silver lining at a time like this? The truth is, this is a much larger conversation about mental illness, lack of mental health services, about violence in our community, loss of community and connection. About the fragility of our lives.
So, yes, let's talk about gun control and whether our founding fathers could have imagined that the right to bear arms would possibly be relevant today. Yes, let's take a look at the strength of lobby groups such as the National Rifle Association and decide if these entities represent the values each of us holds. Let's make sure that our policies, the legislature and our judicial system are held accountable by the voters, the public and the people, as opposed to the money raised during campaigns. And yes, of course, lets hug our kids closer as we tuck them safely in their beds.
But, at a far more more basic level, let's also think about living each day to reclaim our sense of connection, community and caring. To look out for each other. To recognize when a neighbor, friend or acquaintance needs something they aren't getting.
And, an even more important lesson for me, my kids, and the community at large, is that there is no cure for grief except time. That it is okay to feel sadness and heartbreak, especially if it inspires us all to dig deeper and do better. That may be the best we can hope for in a time of such apparent madness.
Children running on meadow at sunset via Shutterstock
A version of this post originally appeared at The Huffington Post