I realized something at midnight January 1, 2013, as my family and I watched the ball drop: New Year’s is the only truly universal celebration. While the networks panned over clips of song and glitter from all corners of the globe and my own family toasted and cheered and reeled through our lofty resolutions, I was struck by an overwhelming sense of camaraderie with the world.
It seems for this one night, we all are given to a collective pause … a time of reflection and resolution. A moment where we mark the inevitable passage of time by trying to understand the events of the past and resolve to somehow do better in the future.
I don’t think I’ve ever had a harder time trying to understand the past than this December when 26 people were brutally murdered at a school 20 minutes from my hometown. Twenty of those lost were six- and seven-year old first graders.
The magnitude and horror of this latest incident of gun violence still doesn’t seem like it can possibly be true. That Friday, I sat paralyzed in disbelief and despair listening to the news coverage as it unfolded. Willing it to be wrong, drowning in its cruel reality, just as I did the morning of September 11, 2001.
How can we hope to understand such insanity and tragedy? To put it into any sort of perspective that means something to our collective consciousness? I’m not sure we can, and frankly I don’t want to devote time to analyzing a mentally ill man whose goal was to have the world talking about him and his horrific actions.
Before any clinking of champagne glasses and choruses of Auld Lang Syne, I resolved to do everything I could to make sure this doesn’t happen again. I signed gun control petitions, global sympathy cards, joined memorial web pages and shared it all via social media. I made a green Sandy Hook memorial ribbon my Facebook profile picture, and I won’t take it down until I see legislative changes in gun control.
This is not a sole solution, however. We need to address mental health in our homes, schools and workplaces. Parents, teachers, students and colleagues… we all need to expand our involvement in the world around us. It’s ironic: we now have instant access to everything and everyone through technology, but this has only served to isolate us even more. Today’s children can spend hours playing video games, surfing Youtube, or texting but put them in a room with other people and the silence is deafening.
I think the greatest lesson we can teach our children is empathy. And lack of empathy is a clear indication that an individual is struggling with inner demons and needs help. We are innately social beings, and to feel empathy for other living things we need to interact with them on a personal basis–not via a game console or keyboard.
A few days after Christmas, I sat among fellow humans in a movie theater five minutes from Newtown watching Life of Pi. I loved the movie and everything it made me question and discuss with my family. I’m not a religious person, but I think a spiritual one, and I was especially touched by the catholic priest’s lesson on the suffering and subsequent death of Jesus… I understood it to mean that human suffering was meant to teach us love and empathy; without it these two tenets of life would not be possible. Unfortunately we are surrounded by suffering and senseless tragedies, so we’ll never know if a “perfect” life is indeed possible, but let us all embrace what we have and one another for all that we share. And perhaps that’s the key to happiness.
Forget my dinner-table New Year’s resolutions to write more and lose ten pounds. I resolve to be happy in the here and now. To cherish today and those around me in honor of those who no longer can. That’s the best present of all.