“In all these tragedies, there are far more helpers than there are bad guys. You are one. Do what you do to heal your tiny corner of the world. You are helping.” -Katie Read, MFT
When I turned on the news, a long-nailed claw ripped into my chest, yanked out my heart, and left me on the couch like a big gaping wound. My young son was oblivious, thank god, but I realized a new strain of parenthood: watch news this devastating, but still turn to my son and force a smile, find my encouraging sing-song voice and keep going with his new baby picture cards: ball, teddy bear, school, hug.
And we say the same words, right? We all talk about holding our children a little bit tighter. My husband’s boss went out to buy the kids every damn thing on their Christmas lists.
Because worst of all, worst of all, we are all imagining ourselves in the situation. Our grieving has so much to do with our brains spinning the unthinkable, putting ourselves in their shoes again and again, then yanking us right back out because it’s too much. The mere idea annihilates us.
And so we hug our children tighter, but here’s the reality: they are still our children. We take a longer moment today in gratitude for them, but they will still fight with their siblings and throw their food against the wall and tantrum at bedtime. I was reading articles about the tragedy this morning, so grateful for my perfect little boy asleep in the next room…and then he started crying two hours before his normal wake-up time and my whole body tensed and I thought no no no please go back to sleep please go back to sleep. Because I’m human and I’m selfish and it’s normal.
And for most of us, we’ll spend a few days watching the horror, venting on Facebook about gun control and mental health services, and then we will go have Christmas. Maybe a hero will rise from the tragedy, and finally change some of the policies in this country. Maybe quiet heroes will rise and help families through the horror. But this will not be over for many years. There will be divorces. There may be suicides. There will be siblings and survivors carrying scars into adulthood, running from bullets in their sleep, or trying to fill the space of a missing 5-year-old so that Mom will just stop crying forone minute, please, Mom, please.
And you and I, far away, probably can’t change that. So what can we do? The calls will be to get political, which is vital and important and wonderful and is not something we were all born for. I know that politics is not my strength. I cry too easily. I look terrible in business suits. So instead I have to look inward.
I believe that if I try to be less selfish today, I am helping. People deserve generosity.
I believe that if I make a genuine effort to put other’s needs first today, and to be kind to all I encounter, I am helping. People deserve gentleness and care.
I believe that if I reach out to someone I suspect may be struggling, instead of just figuring they’ll ask for help if they need it, I am helping. People deserve to be seen and noticed.
I believe that letting ourselves feel whatever we are feeling: devastated, scared, frozen, nonchalant, dismissive—letting ourselves feel it, name it, but not judge it, is helping. People deserve to have their unique experiences.
And I believethat if I pray, I am helping. To be honest, I try to include this tragedy, and all the others like it, into my understanding of God for one reason: no one ever said, yeah, I finally stopped believing in God and my life got so much better! I’m filled with such joy and bliss every day now that I finally stopped believing! No one said it, and no one felt it. Doubts and all, I believe in energy and I believe we’re connected by it and I believe that a few focused moments sent in earnest desire that someone else might feel comfort is helping. I don’t know how, but I have seen it and I believe it.
Do your best today. Listen to that inner nudge towards goodness. Act on it. You are helping.
In all these tragedies, there are far more helpers than there are bad guys. You are one. Do what you do to heal your tiny corner of the world. You are helping.
Katie Read is a Marriage and Family Therapist and Executive Editor of Psyched Magazine. She is also a writer who blogs about autism parenting at www.childshould.com. Her writing has been featured at Autism Speaks, Motherwell Magazine, Mamalode, The Mighty, and others.