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Beyond Words

The Rev. Daniel R. Heischman, D.D., Executive Director
December 18, 2012
Candles for Newtown

I had just landed, on my flight to Washington DC on Friday, when I opened up my email and read the first news of the horrific events unfolding in Newtown, CT. During the flight, I had been listening to a CD of Advent music, entitled, “December Stillness.” Now a different type of December stillness descended upon our country: as we came to grips with yet another mass killing (we have been averaging one a month in 2012), there was very little to say. The raw and unthinkable tragedy of twenty children being killed in their school was something words could not help us capture or explain. On Friday night I watched TV newspeople struggling to find words—something they normally have plenty to offer—and our President having to pause for long moments while fighting back tears. No words do justice to our shock and empathy for those in suburban Connecticut, who now live with a loss and a collection of gruesome memories for the rest of their lives.

That such an event could occur during a season that celebrates children, peace among all people, and hope for the world was, of course, a very cruel irony. However, we need the message of Christmas all the more in face of what we have watched and heard. We are still a humanity that is capable of redemption, and we saw signs of redemption in the actions of those adults in the school on Friday: a school principal and psychologist who, having heard the initial shots being fired, ran toward the danger rather than away from it, and teachers who quickly and calmly brought their students to safe places. We need to hold on to those redemptive images as we live with a deep sense of grief and loss. Moreover, in lieu of words tossed around in the aftermath of this tragedy, some of which may seem trivial, we need to hold on to the Christmas message that so many of our schools will be hearing and celebrating this week, that Christ’s birth embodies God’s deep love for humanity and hope for our destiny.

Holding all of these things together, as we welcome back our children today for this last week of school, and then wishing them a happy vacation at the end of the week: that is our task. School may feel a little less safe this week, no matter how far away we might be from Newtown CT. But we are likely to find ourselves cherishing our students all the more, in tragedy’s aftermath, and it is in school this week that our students in Episcopal schools will hear and feel the message of hope for the world that goes beyond all words.

Responding to the Newtown Tragedy: Resources for Schools

1 Comment

  1. 1 Ann Mellow, NAES Associate Director 18 Dec
    For those who work every day with students, it can be daunting to process our own feelings while simultaneously offering hope, stability, a listening ear, and a calm presence for students and families. How do we β€œtake care of the caregivers?” Here are some suggestions from mental health professionals and others who have experienced crisis:

    Spend time together. After September 11, my school in lower Manhattan began Wednesday morning breakfasts that allowed faculty members to come to school early just to gather over bagels and coffee. No agenda and no purpose. Just to be together.

    Find ways for the grown-ups to talk together without students. Teachers, staff, and parents need space away from students and children to process what has happened and re-center themselves for their roles as teachers and caregivers. 

    Watch out for one another. Each of us has and will continue to respond to the events in our own way: anger, sadness, withdrawal, determination to move forward, political action, prayerful mediation. Some of us will need to talk and others will avoid talking. Look out for one another and find support for a colleague, parent, student, or family in distress.

    Keep routines. Children are more resilient than adults and they thrive when life is predictable. It is important to honor their feelings and questions. It is equally important to allow them to move on: to honor their right to enjoy life without guilt and to have joy and laughter in their lives.

    How are you responding? We’d love to know.


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