Reflections from Newtown

Farah Sheikh of New York, takes part in a candlelight vigil in Times Square, for the victims of the Sandy Hook School shooting, in New York, December 14, 2012.
Farah Sheikh of New York, takes part in a candlelight vigil in Times Square, for the victims of the Sandy Hook School shooting, in New York, December 14, 2012.

The last 24+ hours has felt like a recurring nightmare, but magnified 100 times worse.

It’s cruel. When you’re young, there are certain places you feel like you can go to where no one will hurt you, ever. For me, it was my grandparents’ houses, church, and school. Now that I’m older, I now know there’s no such thing as “safe.” But that doesn’t mean that our children can’t feel safe. There’s still so much for kids to learn about the world, and as our children, they deserve to feel secure, be shielded from harm, and simply enjoy being a kid. They deserve the opportunity to learn, greet their educators, play with their friends during recess, and have Mom or Dad pick them up so they can tell them all about their day.

So for someone to rampage a safe haven and such an important institution to destroy lives yet to begin—as well as the innocence of many others—is absolutely incomprehensible. Repulsive. Devastating.

Yesterday’s news of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, which ended the precious lives of 20 children and six adults, shattered the hearts of humans around the world. It was difficult to fathom after one could think about all the other high-profile mass shootings this year—again, in places where such occurrences are unthinkable—particularly the movie theater shooting in Aurora, CO and the Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek, WI. Places of sanctuary, places of escapism, places of everyday and essential learning have all been tainted by horrific incidents and have people living in more fear than they used to know.

The incident also raises serious questions about gun control and what are we as American citizens and what our leaders must do to prevent these tragedies from repeating. There’s also the issue of how do we get rid of the stigma associated with mental health and how do we make appropriate resources available to those struggling, so that they don’t resort to putting a gun in their hand.

Those debates put people at odds with each other, yet I’ve also noticed one more issue that seems to divide us when such horrific instances rock our world—where our faith plays into it. For some, the first and only thing to do is pray. For others, it’s to question God or whichever higher power may or may not be in control why he, she, or it could let such a terrible thing happen to helpless people. Those who pray might tell you to do so too, and perhaps the answer may be to let prayer back into our schools; those who don’t practice prayer might tell those who do to stop because there is no such deity who could heal the hurt that’s already been done unto us.

I say prayers for anyone who needs one. I ask God to give strength to the families and loved ones of those lost at Sandy Hook yesterday. It’s what gives me a sense of comfort during tough times like these, and others obviously feel the same way. After the initial shockwaves hit, it’s really all I can do.

I feel that addressing my stance on how I deal with tragedy is important, because I don’t enjoy seeing others being attacked for dealing with a situation similarly. However, I also have to disagree when people say that we need to put prayer back in schools. We can’t force everyone to practice the same religion and create more barriers in our world. We just need to leave people’s personal beliefs be.

I also believe that along with prayer or whatever way one deals with tragedy internally, action must be taken. We need to be the people to stand up to our government and demand a plan to address the problems with guns in this country. Contact your legislators and make your voice heard. These are NOT issues local, state, and federal governments can resolve on their own, and we can all come together to create change. On the other side of the table, we also need to do something about the way mental health care is handled in this country. There is absolutely NO excuse for what the gunman did—NONE whatsoever. But if he and other mass shooters throughout history could get the help they needed to deal with their issues, would they have done what they did? One possible solution is to look into mental health research and how we can better deal with people capable of causing massive harm BEFORE they do it.

But above all this, above our personal feelings on political issues and faith, we all should agree that we can stop hurting each other by loving and respecting one another. Nurture your children. Tell them to be kind and teach them between right and wrong. Teach them to respect everyone no matter where they’re from, what they look like, who they love, and what they believe in. Encourage them to reach out to someone if they’re looking lonely. And whether you’re a parent or not, if you know someone who is having problems, talk to them. Let them know you’re there for them and that they’re loved. It all starts with giving love to those close to you and treating everyone around you with kindness. Those are the simple concepts that manifest and make all the difference in the world.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, families, and community of Newtown. For the 20 sweet little souls that were waiting for the holidays and were the loves and lives of their parents and everyone close to them. For the six fine adults who also loved those children and were dedicated to education and their own loved ones. You are missed and will never be forgotten.

(And also to those heroic in the face of darkness, thank you.)

PHOTO CREDIT: Reuters/Carlos Allegri
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