On Friday mornings our youngest students parade down the hall singing and playing instruments to let all of us who work in the synagogue know that Shabbat is coming. It’s very cute. This past Friday, my office door was open, so the kids peeked in and I got up to visit with them.
“I recognize you,” exclaimed one little girl. “You’re from the synagogue.” “That’s right,” I answered aware that she recognized me from the sanctuary where she recently attended services with her family. “I’m also from your school,” I told her. “It’s not possible!” she said giggling.
If only she knew how correct her statement is, but not about confusing where people belong. The children continued their parade because they belong happy in school and I returned to my desk. As I sat down, a news bulletin was flashing on my phone.
It’s not possible. Young children enjoying a day at school can’t be victims. They’re too innocent, too sweet and too open to every next possibility. Except this one. The horrible event in Newtown, CT for which we all grieve is something we and our children never can be open to. It’s not possible.
The violence is too much. The grief is too profound. Disillusioned, even despairing, we cry out. “Out of the depths, I call You, Lord. Listen to my cry,” demands the Psalm.
Violence permeates our culture. It fills our world with murder, mayhem, and constant tragedy. Senseless deaths occur everyday, everywhere it seems. Every innocent life lost is one too many. This? It’s not possible.
Our hearts ache for the victims, for their community, and for our society. It’s senseless as it’s so sad. “I hope in the Lord; my soul hopes. I await God’s word,” continues the Psalm.
We hope this is the last time. We know it is not. We hope there can be comfort. We know it won’t come easily. We hope we are better than this. We know we have to be. The violence is too much. The sorrow too painful. It’s not possible.
Parents ask me how to respond. What should we tell our children? Hug your children close, I answer first. Assure them they are safe, as necessary and depending on their ages. Tell them how much they are loved, how truly precious they are. Embrace your children with a love of life and goodness, a love of learning and light, a love of right and meaning.
As for the more difficult, larger questions as to why, my instinct is to redirect kids, and adults too. Let’s focus on what we can control not on what we can’t. Since we know there are some people out there who do evil, we have to do good. Since we know that sometimes people are hurt by other people, we have to be kind and caring to everyone we meet. We have to live the values we believe in, and let those ideals be more important to us, and to the world, then the bad ones.
Finally, I would acknowledge that all of us are sad. We feel so deeply for the victims and their families. Help your children express those feelings, too. Let them say what they are thinking. Hear them, comfort them, and assure them. It may be useful to make a card or write a note or a prayer with your children to send to Newtown. It depends on what you sense your kids need.
I always believe in telling children the truth, but also sharing only what seems directly relevant to what they are asking or saying. Less is more, as long as it is honest and coming from a place of caring for them.
Responding to this sorrow, we must raise ourselves up, lifting up our culture and our children out of the depths. It has to be possible.