Have you ever been on a laughing jag? Once you get started, every little thing, no matter how inappropriate or stupid, is just hilarious. Once the hilarious emotion takes over, you perceive everything as funny and this keeps the laughter going. The same is true with any emotion. Each emotion is like its own colored lens. Whatever you see through that lens fuels that emotion. If you’re laughing, everything looks funny. If you are mad at someone, in your mind, everything they say is proof of how evil they are. If you are afraid, everything you perceive is more reason to feel afraid. If you are in love, everything that you see reminds you of your beloved. It’s the nature of emotions. They color how we think. There is neuroscience behind this. The emotional centers of the mid-brain act as neural filters of cognition deciding for us what we will think and the tone of how we experience our lives...
The anniversary is approaching. Discussions have been going on across town about how best to approach the day. Taking the wishes of the families into account who have asked to not have a commemorative event that would repeat the media circus they lived through last year, there won’t be a townwide event on 12/14/13.
Instead of a single commemorative event that comes and goes, a much more carefully thought through vision and mission has been endorsed by families, our first selectman, the superintendent of schools, the Interfaith Council and civic leaders throughout our town. That is to set in motion a positive resilient momentum that will serve us for years to come. We are naming it A Year of Service...
I wanted to offer my thoughts to the community, not in my role as a member of the Distribution Committee for the Newtown-Sandy Community Fund, but as a neighbor and friend. We will be crossing some significant milestones in the days and weeks ahead in closing the first important phase of that Fund. This offers us a time to reflect on what this fund is.What strikes me most is that this fund is a gift. It is not a federal entitlement enacted by statute. It is not an insurance policy recipients have paid into. It is a wonderful gift offered through the love and kindness of many thousands of young children who gathered their pennies as they cried for our terrible loss, teens who washed cars and held fund drives, of parents, whether they acted from their homes or their corporate and foundation board rooms...
Six months ago today we grieved along with families in Newtown and throughout the world, as we heard the story of the twenty children gunned down as they learned, and the teachers who died trying to save them.
Our grief had a familiar feeling for both of us; a madman armed with an arsenal of dangerous weaponry changed our lives forever too. After shooting Gabby in the head and leaving her for dead, the gunman shot and killed Roxanna’s beautiful daughter Christina-Taylor, a bright, determined nine-year-old girl who had come to meet her congresswoman.
It was the evening of the day the threatening call was made to the Hawley School. We were gathering for our resilience workshop when I heard a quote I had used two weeks ago come back to me.
A Sandy Hook resident who was the object of some pretty cruel attacks by hoaxers pulled me close to say, “My calamity is my providence. Outwardly, it is fire and vengeance, but inwardly, it is light and mercy…”
He then went on to tell me that he had been through hell since that horrible day in December. Emerging over time, and much to his surprise, he was finding in himself an increased sense of openness to others, and with it, a sense of gratitude for being more available to others. And it was true. I had seen this deeper heartfelt connection to others, and gratitude for it, unfold in him over the past six months. He said he could not have anticipated this, but that he experienced this change as a gift. Was this the “light and mercy” Baha’u’llah was talking about in his quote?
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.