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Sandy Hook, One Year Later

Sandy Hook: One Year Later

 “When deep inside you there is a loaded gun, how can you have God?

“The damage I have done to myself…”

​​                        Kabir: Ecstatic Poems, Versions by Robert Bly

Isn’t it enough that the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting is Saturday?

Isn’t it enough that the 48 page report about it was released two weeks ago?

Now we can hear the 911 calls from December 14th, 30 long minutes of panicked, tearful voices, one from a woman with a bullet in her foot, one from the custodian, begging for help. “It’s still happening. Please, send someone. Why aren’t they here yet?

What is the matter with us?

Weren’t the 28 bodies enough?

Six educators dedicated to their students.

Twenty children who wanted to learn.

One mother who thought that guns and shooting ranges would help her son talk to people.

One crazy loner with a loaded gun deep inside him, taking four more guns and ammo with him, shooting his way into the school.

Why do we need more evidence, more proof that the shooting a year ago happened? Do more details make it more real?

For me it was real the moment I opened my iPad that Friday morning and read 16 words. That’s when the damage began.

“Shooting in Connecticut school”

“Shooting at Newtown school”

“Eight students dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School.”

Sam, my precious six-year-old grandson, a first grader at the school, was he one of the eight?

The call to my son, “Sam’s okay… no, don’t come… I’ll call you later.”

The damage I did to myself watching TV that day—every channel playing the same scenes over again.

The bucolic view of the school resting among the trees. The children and parents grabbing at each other. Police cars, fire engines, ambulances scattered across the parking lot. News reporters shoving microphones into shocked faces, wanting the best, most heart-wrenching story.

“It looked like the set of an action film, ma.”

The damage I did to myself seeing the photo of Adam Lanza – those crazy, wild, wide eyes. I knew those eyes. I’d seen them every day of my life as a kid. They were the eyes of my brother, tortured and torturing. His scope of damage was limited to those he lived with, but the effects have lasted a lifetime. He, like Lanza, died too young and not soon enough.

I saw those eyes and knew what happened. I saw Lanza’s first day in kindergarten, when nobody talked to him because he was too strange. I saw him get older when children get crueler. I heard their taunts: “Weirdo,” “Crazy,” as they made circles with their finger at the side of their heads.

I saw him hearing their words, wondering what they had to do with the emptiness and devastation inside of him.

Did the taunting began in the first grade? Is that why he choose that hallway? Did he think he was killing the children who tormented him and teachers who didn’t protect him?

The damage I do to myself feeling sorry for him. My son and his family will never recover. If they don’t know where their kids are for a nanosecond, they are back at the school that morning. When the first day of school comes in September after the blissful forgetting of summer, they are back at the school that morning. When Sam enters the new school, they will still be back at the old one.

With all of that, I do damage to myself feeling sorry for Adam Lanza. His life was lost long before December 14, 2012. I still feel sorry for the parents who didn’t know how to help him. For the brother who both loved him and wanted nothing to do with him.

The damage I did to myself by not flying to Connecticut that afternoon. I wasn’t there to help, to cry with them, to not be so alone, so walled off from everybody.

The only times that were real to me were the nightly FaceTime conversations with my son. I should have been there. But I was frozen in the moment, reading those 16 words on my iPad.

The damage I did to myself reading all those articles Google Alert sent me for six months. I was with the first responders, “Reliving Horror and Faint Hope at Massacre Site.”

I did damage to myself when I stood across from the firehouse in Sandy Hook, in front of the barriers keeping me from walking up to the school. When my son pointed out where he found Sam, whisking him into his arms, both of them crying; the windows of the room in the firehouse where the families waited for their children.

I damaged myself every time I searched for the reason Sam’s classroom escaped. It was the first classroom Lanza came to and he walked right by it.

The damage I did to myself when I found out why. His teacher hadn’t removed a small piece of black construction paper, covering the window of the door. It was from a lockdown drill two weeks before. Lanza couldn’t see the children being ushered into the tiny bathroom. He thought the room was empty. He walked by.

I do damage to myself because of one piece of black construction paper. My survivor’s guilt makes me ask, “Why was Sam’s life saved when so many died?”

The damage I’ve done to myself every day since the shooting asking, where was God?

Kabir poses the question: “When deep inside you there is a loaded gun, how can you have God?” I ask, when so many innocents died in the name of craziness and revenge, how can I believe in God?

My faith disintegrated that Friday. The faith that was deeply rooted inside of me throughout my life, even during my time with my brother’s crazy eyes. It took only 11 minutes for it to be gone.

Before the shooting, I believed there was meaning in every experience no matter how painful. I accept the fact that there is no meaning in this one. People have become strong enough to live through the death of their children and loved ones. But that’s not meaning, that’s survival.

After a year I am at a standoff with God. I still pray. I still believe there is a core of goodness in everybody. But not the way I did before. I step more carefully through my life, not being sure of anything.

I think about my grandson’s one question to me about living in LA. ‘Savta[1] Rachel, are there any bad guys living in LA?” “Yes, Sam, there are.” Do they live near you?” “No, honey, they don’t.”

How could I tell him that bad guys live everywhere? Given what he had been through this year, I thought this one lie was okay.

[1] Hebrew word for grandmother.

Rachel Bat-Or is a rabbi and licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, California. She works with professional writers and speakers to find their authentic voice so they can inspire their audiences. She can be reached at rabbirbo@gmail.com.

 

Take That Back

Take That Back!

How often do we stop, honestly look at our lives, and ask, “Is this what I want to be doing right now?”

We all have parts of ourselves that we

  • squashed because our family or friends didn’t accept them;
  • gave away to others who seemed to need them more than we did;
  • stopped using because they wouldn’t pay the bills;
  • simply forgot about when our lives became too busy.

We were each born with magic, excitement, and openness. As children we believed anything was possible. Then we grew up. How much of that magic is left in our lives today? And how can we get back what we lost?

The answer lies in chapter 25, verse 10 from this week’s Torah portion, Behar.

“…and you shall hallow the fiftieth year… It shall be a jubilee for you: each of you shall return to his holding and each of you shall return to his family.”   

Each Israelite family was granted a portion of land when they entered Israel. But over the years some were forced to sell it because of poverty, illness, a death in the family. After 49 years, the Israelites who had given up their land were commanded to reclaim it.[1]

We can also use this commandment to find all the parts of ourselves we gave away.

We can make a list of the things we loved and no longer do; the dreams we had as children and didn’t pursue; the projects we started and never finished.

Unlike the Israelites we don’t have to wait at all to reclaim what we lost. We can reclaim it now. We can spend time this week examining our lives to see what we let go off and decide if we want it back.

Do we want to write poetry, do art, dance, cook, play sports, go to museums, become involved with organizations that are important to us? Do we want to reclaim our childhood ideas and dreams? I hope the answer is yes.

Let’s make a commitment to choose one thing that we gave up and bring it back into our lives. If that feels good, then pick another and another. Reclaiming those pieces of ourselves will give us more pleasure than we could even imagine.


[1] This is a wonderful example of how important economic justice is in the Jewish tradition. We are commanded to divide our possessions as equally as possible.