When I heard about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I did what I always do when my heart breaks, I sobbed. I offered a prayer for the people who’d lost their dear ones. Dear God, Hold them in your care.
Then, I called my daughter, texted my son. I love you. Later in the day, I read what Fred Rogers, of PBS TV said, when asked how to talk to children about scary things: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would tell me to look for the helpers. There are always helpers.”
There are always helpers.
Police officers, EMTs, doctors and nurses; therapists and healers and clergy. Wise uncles, kind neighbors and best friends – and of course, there are angels.
There are always angels.
When the students in my Soul Caller Circle asked me, What would you tell your children? I stumbled around at first. I wrote a few things -words that I thought would reassure them, would help them.
But my words felt hollow. I kept coming back: What would I tell my children?
And then it dawned. I would tell my children what I told them on the day when another tragedy struck the world: September 11th, 2001.
You are going to be okay.
When a tsunami slammed southeast Asia, killing hundreds of thousands of people. After hurricane Katrina and the Gulf Oil Spill and another wave, and the meltdown of the nuclear reactors in Japan.
You are going to be okay.
I would tell my children that the world was safe, mostly – in spite of this freakish, once-in-a-blue-moon event. And that when and if they happened to encounter a small pocket of ‘not safe’ in the world, they could handle it.
You can handle what comes, I would tell them. You are resilient and smart and resourceful – and no matter what happens, if you listen to the voice of light within, it will ALWAYS guide you home.
I would tell them this because I know that it’s true. There are always angels.
I would say, “Let’s find the love in this.” Let’s find the helpers and heroes and good deeds that flowed into this story the moment it broke the world’s heart.
There is love in every story. I would help them find it.
I would teach them to reach for their own helpers: the friends and teachers, routines and activities that anchor and reassure them that the world is still whole. I would reach for my own- my husband, my sisters, my friends.
Most important, when each particular bad thing was over, I would let it be over. I wouldn’t keep dragging them back to it. I wouldn’t talk about it or agonize over it. I would turn off the endless media coverage: what sense can a child make of a crime scene shot from a helicopter? We would make cookies instead – and go outside, where their world was just as it had always been.
I would turn my attention back to my own life, my own work – loving these children. I would let them get back to theirs: building blanket forts and riding bikes and ball games; the precious and important work of sleepover parties and class plays and campfires…
… and proms. My kids, who lived through 9/11 are bigger now – 21 and 24 – and proms were important and lovely times in their lives. I witnessed their preparations for first dates and proms. I drove around the east coast with each of them, in turn, choosing colleges.
As it has turned out, my kids are okay – just as I promised them they would be. I wasn’t always sure it would turn out that way- but every time I made that promise I offered a silent prayer that it would.
What would I tell my children today? Just what I told them on 9/11: I love you.
I would love my children with everything I had.
I would love the world – right in front of them, heart wide open.
I would live as an example of love – so that they would know how to live that way.
I would do this in honor of the children of Sandy Hook Elementary School who would never have the chance they had.
I would remember (and keep reminding them) that life is mostly good and though there are these brief pockets of darkness and sometimes, terrible sadness, no matter what happens – from war to flood to fire to the outrageous inexplicable loss of 20 little lives – the world has always been, and always will be, a story which is mostly about love.