The bottom line is, it’s about how we honor the love. First, the love of those we have lost, then, the love for those who remain. We grow when we are able to derive greater strength from the adversity we face. To suffer successfully is to get the wisdom from it. Suffering expands us, or contracts us. Growth is not a guarantee. It is a choice. We can suffer unsuccessfully. With crises the nation can rise to a new horizon of its promise, or it can sink into rancor and division. We choose. How we come to view each other as a result of our suffering is the key. The anguish from such horrible loss as we have experienced since 12/14 grips us all with a sense of powerlessness over the workings of fate.
The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” —Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor As a resident of Newtown, I was traumatized, and in denial, when the news broke that there had been a shooting at Sandy Hook School. The first reports were unconfirmed, that the principal — or a teacher — had been shot. Details unfolded sparingly throughout the day; anxiety-filled hours dragged unbearably slowly before the worst case scenario was finally revealed:
Everything we know about resilience tells us that it grows best in our relationships with others. Resilience is that special ability to spring back from adversity. It’s a word also used to describe how we can become stronger as a result of the struggles in life. I was at the diner the other day with some friends. We were talking about our kids and how they were doing since 12/14 and how they can be more resilient. After several minutes of my friends talking, here is how the conversation went.
“My 15 year old? I think … is OK. He doesn’t say much. I have noticed he locks the front door now when he comes home,” one dad said.
“I got an e-mail from …’s teacher. She hasn’t handed in two homework assignments. She’s never done that,” said another.
A young mom commented, “My six-year-old started sleeping with us again. Otherwise, he seems OK.”
As a psychiatrist, my off-duty conversations with people can run the gamut from the mundane to the very personal. I was talking to a friend in town who described how he feels cut off from people he knows since the horrific tragedy in December. “It hurts that some people I know really well, even family, haven’t reached out to me. Do they just not care?” We talked about how they may have no idea what to say that would be helpful and not sound empty. Not knowing what to say, they say nothing. Then, he said, “People ask me how I’m doing. What am I supposed to say? If they haven’t been through it, there’s no way they can ever know. It’s superficial for them to even ask and I don’t know how to begin to explain.” So, the understanding and connection he wants the most he feels he can’t get. Either people don’t know what to say to him, and he resents their silence.
What do you know about Chardon, Ohio? I have spent the past week putting this question to my friends and neighbors in Newtown, the place I have called home, off and on, since 1968. I asked my contacts, from the whip-smart hedge fund manager and graduate of Yale Law School to the big-hearted leader of a philanthropic foundation. Not one had heard of Chardon.
Shamefully, neither had I until two weeks ago, when I stumbled across a card sent to the Sandy Hook Elementary School. My 12-year-old son and I were combing through a dozen boxes, from among the tens of thousands of cards and letters that have arrived at our town hall.
We are in the middle of hurricane season, though you might have been distracted from that fact by watching the parade of scorching summer days and their thunderhead attendants march across the state through July and these early days of August. But this week, way out ther...