So many words and thoughts and emotions were stirred up over the weekend as people remembered the events at Newtown in their own ways. I "listened" as people shared acts of kindness done to honor the event, shared calls to action, and shared thoughts and data about continued gun violence. As I listened, I thought about grief. Right now, I find myself thinking about 367 days of grief. For surely, for the families, grief must still overcome them. I look at my own two young sons and cannot even bring myself to imagine what my life would look like, feel like, if I lost them.
Numbers kept circling in my mind, particularly those shared by Slate -- 26 children killed at Sandy Hook, 27 school shootings since then, 310 million guns in America, somewhere between 11,437 and 33,137 gun-related deaths in the last year (it is estimated -- firm numbers are hard to verify), $231 million dollars spent by the NRA, $2.8 million by the largest gun control organization, 6 -- the number of votes that kept a bill to expand background checks from passing (60 yes votes were needed, 54 yes votes were obtained), despite 77-91% percent of Americans agreeing with the need for this bill. (Many more numbers fill my mind).
But even without reading those numbers, my mind already swirled with the continued loss of life that happens daily in connection with anger and hate. My mind kept circling back and back to the importance of compassion, empathy, kindness, community. Surely, those traits are part of the solution. Surely, we can create a more kind and compassionate world. Surely, we can reduce hatred and anger, from which such acts stem.
As I looked at the numbers more and more, I realized I didn't even need the numbers. I only had to look at my immediate community. Last week, in the suburb closest to our tiny town -- a suburb named as one of the safest cities in America (#37, I believe), two people were killed in a shooting related, it seems, to a domestic dispute, and just a day before the Sandy Hook anniversary, there was a school shooting at the high school in the community of a writer I know personally, in which the result seemed lucky -- only the shooter died that day, turning his gun on himself. A young girl is in a coma, and I cannot imagine the suffering of her family right now as they wait to see if she will awaken.
I wish I had concrete suggestions, guarantee solutions, firm "answers," but I have none.
I decided a few years ago while running an after-school program, that when I didn't have the "answer" -- when I didn't know how to "help" a student, how to deal with a child who carried around, already, way too many burdens -- that I would always just give more love.
I figured that, when in doubt, the world could always use more love. I find myself again circling back to that idea, understanding the need and value and importance of more love and compassion in the world.
I was recently moved by some very personal shares over at The Good Long Road on Facebook, and it reminded me of the burdens so many of us carry in life, of the struggles and challenges so many have faced, of the suffering so many have experienced. For some, it is the loss of a parent at a young age, or sexual abuse, or the loss of sibling -- or a child. The list goes on and on.
It reminded me that I must face the world full of kindness and love at all times -- even when my own burdens feel heavy, or I am simply tired or have a headache that won't go away, or a child who won't cooperate. I still must find a way to be a compassionate force in the world. I cannot know what suffering, what pain or even what demon the person I interact with is carrying with them. I cannot know where their anger or disinterest or bitterness comes from, and it is unfair of me to judge.
It is easy to respond kindly when others are kind or to spread joy when others are cheerful.
The challenge is to be kind and compassionate when others are not. Responding any other way only fuels the fire, makes the burden heavier, intensifies the negativity. Responding with love offers the possibility of a shift, even if I never see that shift or even if it never happens. A seed has, perhaps, been planted.
When you act in kindness, when you act from a place of compassion, for a brief moment, at least, you spread love to those you encounter -- perhaps something they have not experienced for a long time, perhaps something they did not have even from their own parents, or perhaps something they lost through a tragic event like the one that happened in Sandy Hook. Perhaps a little bit of kindness, compassion, love or hope is something they are trying desperately to find. A small gesture might just help them along their way.
And the bonus? When I respond with kindness, when I live my life from a place of compassion, I feel better. I see beauty and joy around me. I feel my own burdens, my own past struggles and pains diminish. It's actually quite amazing -- in fact sometimes it feels like a small, personal miracle, and isn't that what the season is all about? In the face of so much loss and so much pain, I found myself realizing that I must, now more than ever, focus on compassion.
I'm ready to make 2014 a year of compassion. Are you?
(P.S. You'll be seeing a shift here on the blog in 2014 that will reflect this emphasis on compassion. You'll see many more posts that carry this more personal type of writing and a shift away from activities. I'll still be doing activities with the boys and plan to share photos of our educational fun on my Facebook and G+ pages, but I want much of my writing time and blog sharing to be focused a bit more on words from the heart. I hope you'll keep reading or, even, subscribe so that you can join me on my journey to focus on gratitude, love (compassion) and responsibility in the new year! And, if you're still reading this right now -- thank you. You have no idea how much it means to me that you took the time to listen).