This week in Connecticut the sky was gloomy, dark and drizzly as Newtown buried 20 of its youngest residents and 6 heroic women. The weather seemed to reflect our mood. At times it was simply overcast and then it poured uncontrollably.
Out of this incomprehensible event, generosity and support have poured in from all over the country and the world. This is often the case when tragedy occurs: we come together and bring our best game, but in time our old ways emerge as life gets back to “normal” and we grow complacent. Of course, life will never be normal for those who lost loved ones. Beth Shaw, a school counselor, offers us a way to honor the loss, teach our children how to be better human beings and maybe, just maybe, change the world for the better.
Here are Beth’s own words:
Like clockwork on Saturday, December 15th, I heard my young children scramble down stairs. I sat on our couch unable to get warm, with puffy eyes, a headache and feeling dazed. I had been staring at my lukewarm cup of coffee for nearly an hour as the events and images of Friday's shooting attacked my heart like swords.
As my children ran to cuddle with me on the couch, the "mommy" in me grew stronger and knew that I needed to keep the television off, and keep the discussion of the horror to a minimum, and that even with my best efforts, shielding our children from the tragedy would not be possible, and not entirely in their best interest. My husband and I
wanted to carefully, cautiously and gently share what had occurred, rather than explaining away the bits and pieces of terror that they may hear from others. I needed to prepare for describing what had occurred, to assure them they were safe and help them make sense of their world that had suddenly lost its’ sense of order. These tiny victims were, by their alignment with my children's ages at Sandy Hook Elementary, my children’s classmates.
My purpose was to answer my children's question..."What can I do to help them?" I created a Promise Page to have each of my children make a "promise" to do something positive in honor of each of the 20 beautiful children that were killed, so that their memories and legacy would be carried forward by giving to others, by being kind to others and by showing compassion for others. Our children created lists of 20 Promises of things that are small, age appropriate, attainable and positive contributions. Our goal is to complete the 20-promises (that we have proudly posted in our home), and then make 20 more so the little souls of the angels will continue to make a difference...one promise at a time.
My children, by making the list, feel like they are DOING something. Giving them a sense of purpose, and a MEANS to be active contributors, helps them make some sense of this horrific event that has upset their world.
(*Some of the children’s promises appear below. They are the beautiful contributions of a 5, 8 and 10 year old.)
Beth’s inspiring 20 Promises Project is a vehicle for us to help children not only honor those lost, but to teach them compassion, about our inter-connectedness and about our power to make positive change. It is also healing and empowering.
It is one week since the horrific attack on the Sandy Hook school. Many are struggling with how to celebrate this most festive time of year in the aftermath and terrible sadness of this tragedy. Perhaps along with stockings on mantle places or on kitchen doors and bulletin boards in classrooms everywhere, we can also hang our 20 Promises. In this way we honor those children who will never see another Christmas or Chanukah. Simultaneously we teach our children about the most profound meaning of giving-not the material gifts but the gifts of ourselves. Long after the toys are broken or discarded for the next big fad, 20 Newtown Promises will keep giving-never wearing out, never old and never discarded.
Kindness, patience and hope will finally win out. It has to, as the alternative is too terrible to contemplate. We can teach this generation of children to have patience, tolerance and impulse control. We can help keep our children safe by raising them to love, share, have compassion and empathy. Teaching them fear and anger will not save them. It will only create of nation of entitled, violent warriors.
Consider this- in a class of 20 children, each taking the Newtown Promise, the result is 400 acts of kindness! Multiple that throughout a school, a town, a state and something profound can happen. We can create magic in this holiday season that will last long beyond Christmas morning.
Finally, I throw this idea out to the grown-ups- instead of those usual self centered New Year’s Resolutions that focus on ways we SHOULD be better, we can all LIVE better. Forget the Resolutions. Take 20 Newtown Promises yourself. Display your Promises proudly in your home and even at work. Live by example and watch how small acts of kindness change the world.
Wishing you a Holiday Season of Peace and Hope!
Some of Beth’s Children’s Promises:
1. I promise to write a thank you letter to a teacher for teaching me and keeping me safe.
2. I promise to plant a tree next spring.
3 I promise to donate coins to the Salvation Army pail.
4. I promise to send a Christmas card to our Resident Trooper.
5. I promise to shake a Veteran's hand when I see them in public.
6. I promise to donate a toy to people in need.
7 .I promise to say good morning to our principal.
8. I promise to say a prayer for Newtown.
9. I promise to pick up trash that is left behind.
10 .I promise to do a chore without being asked.
11 .I promise to bring in the mail for a sick neighbor.
12. I promise to make banana bread for a neighbor.
13. I promise to continue our summer neighborhood food drive.
14. I promise to help a friend at school if someone is bullying them.
15. I promise to help my teacher in the classroom.
16. I promise to call my great grandma and say hi and I love her.
17. I promise to give a Dunkin Donuts gift card for one cup of coffee to a stranger who looks sad.
18. I promise to write a thank you to my Little League coach.
19. I promise to throw away all of our nerf guns that we had in our house.
20. I promise to be nice to the boy in my class who is not nice to me sometimes.
21. I promise to help set the table.
22. I promise to say hi to our bus driver.
23. I promise to be nice to a pet if we ever get one.
24. I promise to clean up my spot at the lunch table.
25. I promise to listen better in church.
© 2012 Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Farmington, CT since 1986.She is the author of the award winning From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce now available in Kindle format for $9.99 as well as in paperback.
Beth Shaw lives in Northeastern Connecticut with her husband Scott and their three children- ages 5, 8, and 10. She has BA from CCSU and her Master’s Educational Psychology from University of Connecticut. She has been a school counselor at the Ellington Middle School since 2004.