It’s difficult to even imagine the pain and the depth of suffering that the families of the slain children of Sandy Hook Elementary School must now endure. No one should ever have to bury a child; no one should have to live a life whose happiness and serenity have been forever shattered by senseless acts of murder. No one should ever have to send their child off to school and worry that they might never see them again. And yet, in Newtown, as in Virginia Tech or in Columbine before them, the greatest fear of every parent became a tragic reality.
All of America is struggling to come to grips with this latest national tragedy. Blame will be justifiably pointed at a society which inundates our children with images of violence while allowing relatively easy access to deadly firearms. Others might look to fault a community that perhaps did not pay sufficient attention to the mental health of its citizens, or at a mother who, although living in one of the safest cities in the country, saw a need to keep handguns in her home. There will be calls for enhanced school security, better law enforcement, strict gun control, and finally a realization that as a modern civilization there is something terribly wrong with the society we have fashioned.
But, as we adults try to come to grips with it all, and perhaps actually take a serious look at the faults outlined above, what do we tell our children? Classrooms around the globe are talking about this latest of massacres that has claimed the lives of children just like them. What words can we say to children who ask why people do such horrible things? How do we allay their unspoken fears?
Of course our first task is to make our students feel safe. We should back up our assurances with actions, making sure that we are indeed doing all we can to ensure the safety of our children while they are in school. Perhaps the price we must pay for safer schools includes not only crossing guards but security guards as well. Thinking we are safe because we live far from inner city crime, seems to be an illusion at best. It is about time we realized that schools are easy targets for sick minds, and the damage a single twisted individual can do is devastating.
However, we should go a step further. Children should be given the feeling that they can do something to help. Let them channel their fear into compassion and their pain into a conviction that they can make this world a better place to live. Let them understand that every act of loving kindness has the power to heal, while every act of hate, in any form, pollutes the air they breathe. Let them dedicate themselves to helping others and to caring deeply for those less fortunate than themselves. And finally, let them understand that the memory of Sandy Hook’s children will best be honored not by tears and grief but by bringing joy, happiness and light into a world that desperately needs to hear the sound of their laughter.