It's been hard to be joyful lately. The weather here in New Jersey has been a reflection of the tragic news from Connecticut, with dense fog and drizzle from dawn 'til dusk. It's been hard to formulate anything to write, so forgive me if this post isn't exactly environmentally focused. I fluctuate between walking around feeling like I've got a barbell on my chest, to bursts of energy due to (not always the wisest) ideas for how to help the families of the victims. Yesterday, after poring listlessly through my Facebook newsfeed, reading all of the sad links my friends were sharing, and signing every petition that was sent my way, I thought I had come upon a "Eureka!" moment: Organize a memorial to plant 26 saplings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. After all, that's been one of the central tenets I've learned from Judaism--to plant a tree in memory of a loved one, so that a new life blooms to commemorate the one that has passed.
But then I paused. I need to be mindful and respectful of what these grieving Newtown families want, not what I want, or what I think they want. I've since learned they have plans for their own memorial (so I will make a donation to that). A friend shared a statement from the family of Dylan Hockley, so I found it informative to hear from somebody (heartbreakingly) connected to the tragedy.
I was equally saddened, shocked, and repulsed when five small schoolgirls were shot at their one-room Amish schoolhouse in October 2006; however, as I knew from visiting Lancaster, Pennsylvania when I was a child, the Amish are intensely private people and they do not appreciate contact with the "outside world." (Is it any wonder?) The best way to help them heal was to let them be, to return to the peace and quiet of their insular world. So, somehow, I let it go...
And now we have Sandy Hook. Another senseless tragedy that could have been prevented. It seemed to keep getting worse and more eerily familiar with each emerging piece of news. I attended a small elementary school in Connecticut. My sister is a teacher of young children. My cousin was the principal of a school. The first victim's name that I heard was Charlotte, the name of my own daughter, who is about the same age. The President called the name of Charlotte first in his interfaith service, and again, I shuddered. Any one of these children could have been one of ours. In a way, they all are.
After the heart-shattering day on Friday, that same night, I attended a lecture by Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who was visiting our town. For an hour and a half, I was completely riveted to the inspiring words of this man, who, with poignant or amusing stories, often came back to the topic of "what can you do with this moment?" Do you make the best of it, or do you make the worst of it? What one small step can you personally take today; what step can you take that will lead to a positive change? He spoke of many times in his own life when he thought he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, yet he turned the circumstances completely around, sometimes to mind-bogglingly successful results. I hope our country is collectively at one of those turning-point moments now.
When I walked into my home office this morning, after yet another crying jag, my eyes fell upon a book that I'd seen only once before--I'm not even sure how it got into our house. The title was "Solace in So Many Words" (2011, Weighed Words, LLC). The first page I turned to was right in the middle of the book, and even after pondering through the pages, this first poem I read was the one that most resonated with me in the wake of Sandy Hook:
"The Thing Is" by Ellen Bass
to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you've held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.
© 2012 by Joy Sussman/JoyfullyGreen.com. All rights reserved. Photos and original text digitally fingerprinted and protected by MyFreeCopyright.com. Site licensed by Creative Commons.