Keeping My Distance (from bad news, from pain and from Sandy Hook Elementary)

“Don’t curse the darkness. Light a candle.” Chinese proverb, photo credit to Christy Young

“Don’t curse the darkness. Light a candle.” Chinese proverb (Photo by Christy Young)

I finished raking the yard yesterday evening about 11, just before bedtime.

Prior to taking the rake off its hook and rolling the green garbage receptacle to our front yard, I sat cross-legged on a wicker chair in our living room and babbled for more than an hour.

My husband John yawned and his eyes glazed over, letting me know he was tired even though I was nowhere near finished talking about how to stop sad events, like 20 children being killed in their classrooms.

Not one bit closer to an answer or peace, it seemed now was as good a time as any to do yard work. Our lawn was well lit by a front porch light, along with the streetlight. Rain stopped an hour earlier and I learned wet oak leaves rake easier than dry ones.

The rake scraped over the yard while I recalled some 32 years ago, John swinging an ax every spare minute for three days in a row and into the evenings. He stacked the wood high enough for dozens of fires even though the previous winter we’d only burned one.

Kind of like my raking, I guess chopping wood was all he could think to do the day after a masked gunman attempted to rob him outside a restaurant he managed in Columbia, S.C.

At gunpoint, John handed over the restaurant’s bank deposit and the keys to his car. He turned around like he was told and walked slowly across the parking lot without looking back.

A policeman, making his final round, happened upon the scene. He pulled his squad car between John and the gunman. The gunman ran, but when several police surrounded him, he turned the gun on himself.

The 26-year-old armed robber, only four years older than we were at the time, knew the nightly routine because he’d recently been fired from the restaurant chain in a nearby town. The police found photos in a wallet of his wife and daughter.

When I picked up John from the restaurant that evening, I hugged him, but detached from the story. We didn’t discuss it for years.

I noticed anytime negative things happened, I didn’t curse the darkness or even ask God “why” so much as I tried to figure out how to make it all stop … the bad things, the painful and sad feelings, and the fear. I tried to avoid, or at least distance myself, from anything unpleasant, as well as alleviate the same from lives of family and friends. Acceptance seldom came to mind.

Last Friday was no different. When I heard the news about Sandy Hook Elementary, the conversations in my head commenced.  

“I’m relieved our kids have graduated and no longer attend public schools,” but then I thought about our grandchildren. Our first is due in July.

“This sort of thing happens up north,” but the truth is it also happens in the east, the west, and in a restaurant parking lot in the south.

“My kindergarten teaching days are over and thankfully without incident,” but I can’t ignore someone else’s teaching days were cut short and not by choice.

“Sandy Hook Elementary is far away and I didn’t know the children who were harmed,” but now I do, through emails and Facebook and blogs, and each of their young faces reminds me of one I taught.

No rationalization lessened the hurt. It never does, but I’ve kept trying. Still, I can never muster enough indifference, or push the victims far enough away.

I only get crazier trying, which means if I really want to help, I come to terms with not understanding, with feeling shaken and out of control, with lighting a candle when I prefer to ignore the darkness.     

  • Light a Candle – I’ll mail a card because I have to do something. I always have to do something. Here’s the address if you have to also:

             Sandy Hook Elementary School
             12 Dickenson Drive
             Sandy Hook, CT 06482

  • Light a Candle – I’ll accept I can’t eradicate darkness by ignoring it, any more than by cursing it. I can, however, pray for the family of John’s gunman who I’m sure has not forgotten even though it’s been decades, and for the family of Sandy Hook Elementary’s gunman who won’t forget even when decades have passed.
  • Light a Candle – I’ll pray for the children’s parents and the staff’s families, that the upcoming holiday feels gentle, that life feels gentle. I’ll pray this for all victims, everywhere.
  • Light a Candle – I’ll grieve and be angry when appropriate, but I will not debate who is to blame – God, parents, gun advocates, a flawed system. It doesn’t matter and only intensifies the darkness.
  • Light a Candle – I’ll focus on what is good and right in the world. When life turns out to be the opposite, I’ll act maturely, taking responsibility for whatever is mine to do. Rather than sticking my head in the sand, I’ll face pain and respect that it serves a purpose even when I don’t know what that purpose is. I’ll listen instead of interrupting with neatly packaged answers (see link below).

How do you cope with pain and sadness? What can you add to the candle lighting list?

WRite wHere I’m supposed to be – Pain is unpreventable, however, lighting a candle prevents darkness.

On the side: Click on its title to read a post about what to say and what not to say at a time like this, “Please Don’t Give Me a Christian Answer” by Proverbs 31 founder Lysa TerKeurst.

Thoughts about what we can do from “Brave in Brokenness” by Kelly Rae Roberts.

14 responses »

  1. I too, stopped asking “why” a long time ago. I ask “what now” or “what is the next thing I must do” and then do it. A friend reminded me that you can only see the stars when it is dark; therefore darkness can be a good place to be. So can sadness … as long as I recognize that it is like a rip tide. At times inevitable, dangerous, and scary; but if I relax and go into the sadness or darkness, the tide will eventually let me reach shore. I may be a bit battered and bruised, but I am once again among the living and being. No, I can’t fix anything but my prayers do help — me and others — and so I pray for those parents, grandparents and siblings left behind, I pray for the teachers and friends. I pray that we (collectively) find a way to help those with mental dis-ease before he or she causes harm. And then, well, then I go do the next thing.

    • Oh, Peggy, this is beautiful. I hope visitors to this blog post carefully read your comment. It says so much! Thanks for always adding a deeper perspective. And yes, let’s go do the next right thing. Love you!

  2. Such wisdom. When we’re faced with pain and suffering whether personally or from a distance. I go to prayer of course and analysis mode. In analysis mode I try to get the facts that I need to be able to process this. For example on a personal note, my husband got some more devasting health news this week. We were both sad and sick to learn how this was going to impact our lives. His additional health problem was caused by a lady in a car accident, who hit my husband when his vehicle wasn’t even in motion just because she was in a hurry. Honestly, we spent a few moments being angry with her again, just like the gunman at the school. That didn’t last long. Now we’re are at the coping stage. We’re carrying on with our daily lives, trying to put as much normal and sanity into everything we can. Eventaully we get to the point where we can laugh and smile again, the dark cloud starts dissipating and we find the silver lining. In the case of my husband’s newly discovered nerve damage, we both feel that God will use this to direct us to what type of housing we should be in when we move. Looks like we’re going to need some assistance and won’t be able to be as self sufficient as we would have liked. But that’s okay. As they say God is bigger than all our problems. God gives us the grace to get through all our trying times, we just have to cling to Him. Blessings & Merry Christmas, Susan Fryman

    • Hi Susan,

      I’m so sorry to hear about your husband’s health, but admire how y’all are handling it. Anger is a natural response, of course. I’m like you – I get beyond that quickly, then analyze the situation (sometimes too much) and look for the good that can come from it. You said it best, God is larger than our problems. I’m so thankful for that and for having you as a reader.

      Merry Christmas! Hope it’s a special one for you and your family.

    • Edie, I appreciate you stopping by to comment. I’d like more ideas since I feel better when I’m taking action (something as simple as mailing a card), but I’ve read over and over that prayer is the most important action of all.

      Thanks for your posts that are consistently helpful and inspirational. I’m encouraged by them weekly.

  3. Oh so beautiful, my friend. I’m so sorry that your husband experienced that robbery. I’m so sorry so many bad things happen in this world to good, innocent people. Thank you for lighting candles, and thank you for sharing your story. You are being light. Love you.

    • Jana, it’s amazing the impact of an experience decades later. John always reads my posts before I publish them and this one made him cry … not sure he’s ever dealt with what happened.

      I love that we’re lighting candles together. Can’t wait to see what 2013 brings! Love you so much, my sweet, talented writer friend.

  4. An excellent post my friend! You are right indeed, there is no way to rationalize or to even wrap your brain around such a heinous crime. All of our hearts grieve for the Sandy Hook community and especailly those precious grieving parents. I do believe, however, God does call us to be light in a dark and dying world. May Christians allow their light to shine brightly to this grieving community. Thank you for posting the address to Sandy Hook Elementary school. I am sure the many cards and letters sent to these families will bring smiles and some encouragment to help alleviate their tremendous pain. Through it all, our Lord reigns!

    • Thank you for reading and commenting, Beth. I probably wouldn’t have thought to send a card except I saw where a friend posted the address. Grateful for Facebook and getting the word out. Every bit of light helps!

      Merry Christmas to you and your family. Hope your husband continues to do well.

  5. I have found is not wise to seek the why’s when something terrible occurs.
    How? Where? When? And Who?

    These questions are pretty much answered regarding Sandy Hook with much more detail to follow.
    All the questioning will not change anything for the people involved. Human lives are lost to us. Their relatives and friends mourn their loss and companionship. Each must individually deal ( hopefully with the help of loving friends and counselors) with what happened. This is the reality of today. We can try place ourselves in their situation to feel their pain. We can only do this in the sense of shared humanity.

    The “whys’ will never be fully answered in this life for them or for us.

    In the case of self, when I ask myself why I did something or failed to do something, there may be something there for me to ponder. Perhaps a bad attitude, feeling sick, lonesome or tired may have contributed to my personal behavior. This may present a starting point for change. This task is itself difficult.

    When it comes to asking why someone else did something, it is impossible for a mere mortal to do much more than guess.

    Distance shields us from pain. If I were to attend one the victim’s funerals, even though a stranger, my tears would flow into the river of sorrow of the grieving.

    I cried with my daughter last month following the loss of her husband. Tears did not flow on the trip to NJ until I was present to experience her grief.

    God knows “Why”. I must trust Him. If I want and real peace in my life that must be sufficient.

    • Wise words, Bob.

      I was so sorry to hear about your daughter’s husband. It’s painful to watch our children be in pain. I’m sure she was comforted by your presence.

      Thanks for your comment.

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