The Day After Newtown: Finding Our Way

And so we wake up the morning after, and it wasn’t a dream. The children are still dead, the teachers beside them. It is another day, a gray one, where people and animals must be fed and life will go on no matter how we feel.

Many of us took the occasion, yesterday, to find one another and weep. The people of Newtown wept. The President wept. Many of us watched them online and wept along with them. Many of us gathered, with our families, or friends, or in churches, or online, to weep together.

And today the weeping will continue. But along with weeping, those of us who are not in the center of the tragedy will begin, together, to grope our way along in the darkness and imagine what we might do besides weep. Some will begin researching gun control organizations and join them. Some will call for a March on Washington. Some will argue endlessly on facebook about whether gun control would have helped. Some will call for us, instead or as well, to address the issues of mental illness more aggressively. Some will simply be with their own families, grief sharpening their gratitude for all they have.

Of everything that I heard yesterday, and of everything that was cited by others last night in the three hour online time of mourning that my congregation held on our Livestream channel, the #1 cited words of comfort came not from Scripture or Shakespeare, but from Mr. Rogers. These four words, people lifted up over and over: Look for the helpers. Look for the helpers.

The full context of Fred Rogers quote is this: When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

And so, yesterday, many of us were awed by the thousands of people who surrounded the scene of the tragedy to help. We spoke with reverence of the courageous teachers who never stopped helping through the whole event. We spoke of first responders and politicians and counselors who helped and will help.

Today, as we wrestle with complex emotions and struggle to imagine what we might do ourselves, how we might go on, I suggest that we use Fred Rogers’ words as our compass. As we are about to take an action, as we are choosing what to do or not do, say or not say, we can ask ourselves, “Does this help? Am I a helper? If someone is looking for the helpers, will they see this? Will my action give hope to children who are looking for it?”

We may have different ideas about what exactly will help. But we have some pretty good hunches. Some things we’ll all agree on. Listening to each other as we process the event will help. Giving a child the most precious gift of all: our full attention, floor or lap time, will help. Engaging in activities which strengthen our connection to our neighbors and our local community will help.

And I believe that strategic and focused action to limit the carrying and use of weapons will help. Better options and care for people with mental illness will help. Some of us, me included, will put some of our helping energy in this direction.

However we are called to help, may we be bold about it. May we allow our commitments, our action, to be visible. May we claim our power to act, to care, to change the world. As we move out into our day, our week, and 2013, may we be part of the healing.

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