Michael Kasdan reflects on the Sandy Hook school shooting that took place in Newtown, Connecticut two years ago.
Author’s Note: This post was written the day after Newtown. Today, two years later, I took a look back at what I was feeling and saying on that day.
There are no words for yesterday’s tragedy. Just unthinkable. But for the many times that this has happened.
I’ve turned to my friends and my community to try and help me understand. What is wrong here? What is going on? Why is this type of mass scale gun violence in our schools unique to middle class suburban America? This just doesn’t seem to happen anywhere else. And I just don’t get it.
There will be discussions about gun control. There will be discussions about security. There will be discussions about caring for our mentally ill.
But now, at least for me, there is only deep sadness. Pit in the stomach. Tight hugs for my kids. Tears. And explaining and steadfastly believing that the good world we woke up to on yesterday morning did not transform into terror and evil during that Friday. That its still good. But that we have to work to make it so every day through our words, our actions, our relationships, and our character.
I went to synagogue this morning. I want to share something from that service that speaks to me. Now, I’m not usually an on-the-soapbox in-your-face with the religion type person. I went to a religious high school, but I was the “come from public school kid;” I’m conservative, not orthodox. I consider myself to be spiritual as part of who I am, but as not outwardly devout or as observant as many. To me, personally, religion is more about community and family and tradition and togetherness.
And this morning it was particularly wonderful being there in a community. Focused on children. And family. And all that is good. Sharing – without words – that for every parent, yesterday was amazingly difficult and emotional.
The week’s reading included a verse of scripture that contained the words, “Not by might. And not by power. But by spirit alone, shall we all live in peace.” The verse can be understood to mean that violence, fighting, and war are not the way . . . but human spirit – kindness, thoughtfulness, helping, understanding, reaching out across the divide – is what will get us to where we want to be. (In my view, sometimes though, in this world, spirit alone is not enough. And you also need might and power…)
The larger story I wanted to share from this morning comes from a very famous Rebbe, named Menachem Schneerson (The Lubavticher Rebbe). It was written as a description of what it means to be a Jew, but I am going to take the liberty of paraphrasing, borrowing, and transposing to be about what it means to be a good person:
The student asked his teacher: What does it mean to be a good person?
Teacher: A good person is a streetlamp-lighter. A streetlamp-lighter has a pole with fire. He knows that the fire is not his own, and he goes around lighting all the lamps on his route.
Student: But what if the lamp is in a desolate wilderness?
Teacher: Then, still, one must light it. Confront the wilderness and let the wilderness feel ashamed before the light.
Student: But what if the lamp is in the middle of the deep oceans?
Teacher: Then one must take off the clothes, jump into the freezing water. And light it there.
Student: And that is a good person?
Teacher: Yes. That is.
Student: But Teacher. I see no lamps.
Teacher: That is because you are not yet a streetlamp-lighter. To be one, you must cleanse yourself, become refined, so you can see the lamp in others. The lamps are there, but they need to be lit. Souls are in readiness to be lit. Sometimes they are in front of our face. Sometimes they are around the corner. Sometimes they are in a wilderness, or at seas. But there must be someone who rises above and goes out to put a light to these lamps.
This post originally appeared on The Kasdan Family Blog, here.
NB: Shout out to Deborah, an inspirational person and fellow blogger, for telling this story with humor and beauty this morning, which allowed me to reflect and share it here.