Monday, December 17, 2012

Won't you be my neighbor?

There is an abject evil in the world that has taken our breath away.
The people of Newtown, CT are on their knees, felled by the heinous, unmentionable act of a killer who walked into an elementary school and opened fire on its students and teachers.

The rest of us are on our knees, too: some in prayer, others in despair, and still others as a reactionary double-over from the kick in the gut elicited by an act of such unfathomable terror. It’s hard to speak of normal activities with the sickening, shameful, pornographic violence our world has seen.
Just when I think I’m about to resume the business of my life, new waves of grief well inside me and I think of Newtown where mothers are not Christmas shopping and teachers are not making gingerbread houses from milk cartons. Siblings are crushed, families ravaged—ruined—at a time when rejoicing and gladness should come easily.

In the aftermath of Newtown, one thing that comes back to me is the image of that young girl on the news footage whose sweet, little face was contorted in complete terror as she was lead from the scene with her class.
What kind of untold, collateral damage has been done to that little girl, her friends, her teachers, the parents who got to school and didn’t leave with a child? Above all else, it’s the image of that little girl’s face that haunts me; her confused expression saying what the entire nation feels inside.

Newtown could have been us. It could have been anyone.
Among the processing going on via social media, I love the quote from Mister Rogers:

"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."
Am I the only one wishing I lived in his neighborhood right now?

I have taken to repeating those words when talking to my children about Newtown. I keep telling them—thus, myself—to look for the helpers. Where you see the helpers, you’ll know that’s one of the ways God is working in the lives of these hurting people, I tell them. I really, really want to mean it.
So I’ve started looking around here for helpers. The day of the shooting, I went to pick up my kids from school to find that our trusty crossing guard (the same one who always flashes the “I love you” sign when families pull into the school) had arranged for Santa and Mrs. Claus to stand outside with her and visit with kids. 

I’ve been engaged in several Facebook shares offering, simply, peace and support—no political rants or too-soon petitions—but love, from our hearts to theirs.
I watched our President deliver a nation’s condolences to that broken, bewildered community, and echoed his sentiment and sadness.

I watched a video, posted by my dear friend, of her precious son singing—appropriately— O Come, O Come, Emmanuel at his voice recital. It was beautiful and moving.
I sat in the sanctuary of my church yesterday morning while my pastor and friend shared about the breaking heart of God, whom he imagines to be standing beside us in our grief, putting the world back together. Moments later, the children of our church sang to us about a Savior.

Come, Emmanuel, indeed.
I think some of the real helpers are working with my kids today. I am deeply grateful for the loving, living examples of helpers I see in the schools my kids attend. Our elementary school principal, along with her her staff, is in the trenches everyday—long before we arrive and long after we’ve gone home—working, thinking, creating ways to help kids learn. Often, her efforts aren’t so lofty. I’ve seen days when she worries first about a child getting breakfast, much less acing a multiplication test. I imagine her visceral reaction to Newtown, and want to hug her, thank her and be a helper, too.

The same goes for the teachers. I have no doubt that the teachers of my kids caught wind of Newtown’s tragedy and began a painful process of getting through the day without letting the students see their heartbreak. I’ll bet they were simultaneously counting kids, reviewing lock-down procedures, hugging little bodies and grading papers. That night, at home, I’ll bet they came apart like the rest of us. But today is Monday and there they are: back again to shape our future.
Thank you, helpers. I’ll keep looking for you, and make every effort to be one, too. And thank you, Fred Rogers, for giving us a way to help navigate through this ineffable pain until we find ourselves being your kind of neighbor.


  1. Kristi, thank you so much for sharing your heart, I too will look for the helpers!! I teach the nursery and I can't image being without them or someone hurting them. I am in constant prayer for America and those families and friends. Ira Booker

  2. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, Ira. Blessing to you and your sweet nursery family.