I believe in hope.

At the darkest times in my life, when it felt like everything was ruined and nothing would ever be the same again, there has always been a part of myself that has believed in hope. It is part of what it takes to be a survivor in this world: when all the chips are down, you have to hold out that something will happen to make things better.

The tricky thing about hope is that it isn’t always instantaneous and it isn’t always easily accessible. Sometimes you have to wait for things to get better and sometimes you have to suffer for a bit before you find something that reminds you that hope is real. It can make it really hard to believe in much of anything.

Belief in hope makes me stronger. One of my favorite quotes is from a poem by Emily Dickinson. The part I keep in mind is that “hope is the thing with feathers”; it is a part of my personal belief system and one of the mantras I have to remind myself of sometimes. The entire poem, however, is a part of that simple quote.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers-
that perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –

And sweetest in the Gale is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird –
That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity, –
It asked a crumb – of me.

Hope is how I manage to maintain a semblance of sanity in the face of tragedies like what happened today in Newtown, CT. There is a part of me that wants to rage at the uselessness of killing twenty children and the devastation that one man wrought on a small town – and perhaps on all of us at the same time. I want to rage at a universe that would let something so senseless and so devastating happen. Not so complacent to place blame on one deity, I want to rail at them all and demand an accounting of them for what took place in that school today. Yet I don’t.

I don’t because to place the blame on a higher power is as effective as placing the blame on Mickey Mouse or any individual politician or any particular video game/tv show/movie/comic book character/other form of media. The blame falls on the shoulders of the man who walked into that school with three guns and started shooting. The blame falls on the shoulders of the person who felt that it was his only recourse.

I also don’t blame the universe because in reading stories that have trickled out from the situation, I have seen the hand of the divine in the midst of the pain. I see it in the hands of the child who waited for his friends and helped them get out of the building. I see it in the inspiration of the teacher who locked her class in the bathroom and managed to put a storage unit in front of the door. I see it in the injury of the teacher that stood in front of the door to keep the shooter from opening it. I see it in the children who managed to stay as calm as possible and who tried to support each other as the tragedy raged around them. I see it in the hands of the emergency rescue personnel as they worked tirelessly to get the children and teachers out of the building and who took them to safe places to reunite them with families. The higher powers that we believe in were there, working in the ways that they could and doing what they could.

I am old enough to understand that $deity is not Superman or Batman and Creator will not come sweeping into the room to save the day every time something bad happens. Life doesn’t work that way. Instead of blaming $deity for that fact, I look instead for the ways in which the divine does work in times like this.

In the wake of the mall shooting in Portland earlier this week, I stumbled across someone using a quote from Mr. Rodgers that I had not seen before. The base of the quote is “look for the helpers.” Today, I saw the quote in its entirety and it moved me even more than the simple “look for the helpers” that I saw.

“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.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” — Mister Rogers

Look for the helpers. It seems so simple and yet it can be so easy to lose sight of that in the wake of terrible things. It can be easy to see nothing but hate and violence and fear. Look for the helpers. Believe in hope for better days.

I’ve seen some of the typical things cropping up today, from “everyone should have guns to stop this kind of thing” which is, in my opinion, a specious argument at best and downright ridiculous at worst to a picture on FB that has a letter to God from a concerned student that basically asks why God didn’t stop the tragedy and a reply from God that says, “I’m not allowed in schools.” These types of things are crazy-making.

First, we as a country do need to be having more conversations about guns and gun violence. This isn’t me saying we should get rid of all guns or that we should attack the Second Amendment or anything like that. It is me saying, “Maybe it is time we examine some of these laws more closely and maybe it is time we start working on ways to stop these types of things from happening. Maybe we need to look at licensing legislation again and we need to consider things like how weapons are stored and maybe, just maybe, we even need to start educating our children about guns and gun safety so that they stop being ‘mysterious’ and instead are more commonplace items.” But having conversations about these things is important and it is something that we should be doing instead of cowing to the lobby behind the “we should be able to have whatever kind of gun we want because the constitution says so”.  At the same time, we should also be having a discussion about mental health treatment in this country and how we can make access to it easier and more affordable for those most at risk for the need for it. We should be finding ways to let people get help that won’t cost them hundreds of dollars for a single visit. We should be figuring out how to help those who need help. This, too, should be part of the conversation about gun violence in this country because mental instability has been a key factor in many of these tragedies.

Second, God is not banned from schools. There is not some metaphysical anti-God shield that kicks up outside the school doors. Teachers pray. Students pray. Schools have multiple types of Christian student groups. What the law has done is to keep religion out of schools and that is an entirely different animal than keeping God out of school. The Christian faiths of the world cannot even agree on one set of rules (which is why there are so many different types of faiths both Catholic and Protestant) so how on earth are we supposed to figure out what to teach at school? And why should there be one type of prayer in school instead of a moment of silence where each person can pray (or not) as they wish? God was in that school today and if you believe that he wasn’t because there is no mandatory school prayer and because there’s not mandatory religious education, then I don’t want to believe in the same God you do.

The shooting today was a tragedy. Twenty-eight people are dead because one person shot them. Twenty of those people are children between the ages of five and ten years old. They had entire lives ahead of them and now, with the firing of a bullet, they don’t. There is no real logic in this and seeing as how the killer shot himself, we may never have any idea why. His brother (who was mistakenly named as the shooter early in the day) has said that he has a history of mental illness. But mental illness alone does not make you shoot up a school. Seeing as how it is a tragedy, blaming it on the “gun control lobbyists” or the “no gun control lobbyists” or “the lack of God in school” or whatever other political or religious banner is not helpful.

Grieve for the lives lost and the families left behind.

Empathize with the children who survived but who now have lived through something truly horrifying.

Say your prayers or light your candles or do whatever it is you do to seek peace and healing from the universe.

Cling to hope for healing and recovery in the coming days.

Stop looking for a way to turn this into a “we should do this thing or that thing” argument and instead, consider your fellow humans and look for the helpers.

Tonight, I’ll just keep giving my baby girl hugs and I’ll keep reminding myself that though my heart is breaking for the families of the people who died today, my daughter and my nieces and nephews are safe in their homes. I’ll keep looking for the helpers and I’ll keep looking for the little glimpses of light in the midst of the horrible, horrible thing that happened today. I’ll cling to the fact that the divine lives in us all and that perhaps Creator, too, is grieving for what happened today. I think I also will light a candle and whisper a prayer for those we’ve lost and those who’ve been left behind.

With a heavy heart I seek peace. With grieving tears, I seek comfort. May the light remain stronger than the darkness. May the families of those lost find hope, comfort, and love. May the families of the survivors find peace in the face of terror. May the children of Sandy Hook Elementary sleep peacefully; may their dreams not be filled with the horrors they have seen. May we all come together as people and sow love instead of hate, harmony instead of discord, and solace instead of fear. May my prayers join those of my fellows to sing a song to the hearts of those who need hope the most tonight. Amen.

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