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December 17, 2012

The mass execution of children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut last Friday will stay in our minds, hearts and collective memory for a very long time, just as 9/11 did.

The horror of what happened is almost impossible to describe. Words such as tragedy, calamity and disaster are but faded allusions to the reality.  What happened is every parent’s worst nightmare. One cannot even imagine what it must have been for a parent waiting outside of the school for their child to be brought to them by the first responders and seeing no one coming. President Obama said: “I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.”

Such catastrophe provokes existential angst and for some religious questions. Ross Douthat addresses them in a beautiful way in his Op-Ed published in yesterday’s New York Times, entitled The Loss of the Innocents.

There will be, hopefully, some serious soul-searching in the nation. I hope that our reflection will not be limited to issues of gun control but will also include our culture of violence and death, the isolation of many in our society and the need for improvement in our mental health services.

The question for all of us, however, is whether there is anything that we can we do individually to prevent such occurrences? I can think of many but one seems to me to be the most important: to be on alert about the emotional or psychological state of people around us. As we are finding out, the killer had given numerous warning signs of some profound psychological disturbances.

The sentence “how are you?” is one of the most common phrases in the English language, and unfortunately  the least meaningful because it is rarely meant sincerely and answered truthfully.  I remember once, as I was going through a difficult time in my personal life, a friend asked me:  ”How are you?” I answered in the usual “fine, thank you.” He stopped, and looked me straight in the eyes and said: “no, no…. how ARE you?” He was truly caring.

We need to create a society that cares. U.S. Representative Candice Miller said in response to the shooting:  ”The horrific events in Newtown, Connecticut, today have broken the hearts of every American.  As a mother and a grandmother I cannot imagine the grief and horror being felt by so many families today as a result of the actions of this monster. Let us all keep those who grieve and those precious innocent lives that were lost in our prayers. At this terrible time we should all come together, hold those who we love close, and commit to work with each other to promote a loving and caring society to stop this kind of evil in the future.”

As professor Leo Buscalia once wrote:

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.

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