reflections on sandy hook elementary

December 17, 2012

in life

it’s difficult to concentrate today. my mind keeps returning to connecticut. to the children who won’t go to school today. to the children who will. to the parents who have unopened presents in their houses, presents meant for a son or a daughter that are now lying as a reminder of loss and not of delicious anticipation and joy.

i don’t know what to do with this sorrow and rage and sense of futility. maybe you don’t either.

perhaps we can honor these 20 children and seven adults by treasuring our families a little more this season. by reflecting on what we have and not what we don’t. by reviewing our priorities and making subtle shifts to ensure not 100% balance, but mindful selections of how we use our limited time and resources.

we all know the time will come when we’ll slip back to routine. media will turn away from this episode. we will revert to our normal patterns. we will forget that one very disturbed, untreated man and his family were left to flounder because our mental health system does not catch all. and how this problem, seemingly just one family’s, became many families’ problem, and then a nation’s.

before that time comes, i will use this period of high motivation to take action, as well as to hug my children and swallow my fear as i send them to school. i will get educated about our dialogue on gun control and gun policy. i will write letters to elected politicians about what i want to see happen. i will give money to support my opinions. and i will keep on doing so to confirm my continued interest in change and to support the political discussion we may stray from if our attention wanders.

these actions feel so small compared to the size of the loss. but if we all channel our sadness? our collective small is huge.


take action:

here are some organizations you can support or use to send your message. i’m happy to post more if you have one you’d like to recommend.

a few readers wrote to say i’d neglected steps for voicing support for greater funding of mental health benefits. they were right. i’ve added some informational links below and recommend you use the link above to write your representative.

Leave a Comment

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Teryl December 17, 2012 at 5:41 pm

well said f.


fran December 17, 2012 at 5:59 pm

thanks teryl. i’m sure you’re feeling this, being so much closer to newtown.



Kate December 17, 2012 at 6:13 pm

This is a beautiful and inspiring post, Fran. Thank you.


fran December 17, 2012 at 6:20 pm

thanks, kate. now, go sign a petition and write your senator, etc.! that’d be the highest form of compliment.



Tanya Barham December 18, 2012 at 2:55 pm

Could not agree more. This episode reminds me of Bowling Alone ( and Alone Together ( The cover of Shelly Turkle’s book is a great example of what seems to be happening to civic society. Notice every single person looking down at their shining little screen – how often do we see this in public these days? How often do we see each other? The person right in front of us? How much do we attend to the reality of our communities and our families rather than curate and persue a world that is acceptable to our tastes (wouldn’t it be nice if we could just “hide” people we disliked in real life?).

Social media and technology is not the enemy, but I agree with what you say, Fran. We need to be able to use technology as a way to connect individuals to broader issues and then to connect in real life. This idea that we can just tend our own garden and everything will be fine is illusory. We are all very interconnected and yes – when we ignore those problems that we wish would just go away they tend to come roaring back.

I feel, too, that the important part is to not lose the motivation to do good, connect with each other and to reach out to people in the real world. To be with people face to face. To simply look around us and not at our handheld device and to ask why. I think that is a start.


fran December 19, 2012 at 10:30 am

tanya, while i of course see the many instances of our tuning the world out while we tune into our devices, i don’t see things quite as stark as shelly turkle does. on my facebook stream there is a steady dose of people checking in with each other, supporting each other, arguing with each other. i sometimes see people “defriending” others when they find that “life is too short” to listen to people who don’t share their views. but that seems to be the rarity.

in terms of sandy hook i feel that technology is aiding us by letting us heal together and informing us of ways we can take action, to do that good.

thanks for writing! i’ll look into bowling alone, which i don’t know.



Tanya Barham December 20, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Fran, I have to respectfully disagree with your rosy assessment about people “checking in” on facebook. Such superficial (weak tie) type check ins might be sufficient for those of us in good health, mentally and financially stable situations, who just need to keep our connections warm for times when we might want to call upon a long lost friend during a visit to their city; however, anyone who has every been in a tenuous situation and needed a real friend would never be foolish enough to confuse what facebook/social media offers for what real friendship requires.

Case in point:

No one is fooled by a like or check in. We instinctively know that taking less than a few seconds to whip off a public or private message or like is no substitute for having someone listen, hug you, bring you a meal or really check in.

Facebook and social media are no substitute for building the gritty, time consuming, sometimes awkward stuff of the real relationships that heals us when we are hurting and down. Three years ago I gave birth to my daughter. It was an intense five day labor and less than a week after it I was left, a single mother entrepreneur with a colicky baby that never slept and let out blood curdling screams both day and night for more than four months straight. I tried everything from medical interventions to straight up shamanistic quackery. I was losing my mind. I hadn’t slept more than 4 hours a day in half hour increments for months. I was having a sleep deprivation induced mental health crisis.

What I learned from that was this: I made it through by the kind gestures of my dharma community, my friends and those who regularly stopped by my home, called, brought me meals, walked my daughter while I eeked in sleep and capably ran my business while I struggled. It took a village of people in the REAL WORLD who were paying attention to me and my life to notice and act on their best impulses to help and to support my daughter and I through a very difficult time in our lives.

At many points in that journey (people cannot be around me 24/7) I would feel isolated and go on facebook to see what was going on with the world. One day I posted “Have not slept more than 30 minutes in a row for over four months.” I think about 50 people “liked” that status update. That was the day I deleted my account for good and never looked back.

Since then I emailed all of my friends and said I am writing to you because I love you. If you want to keep in touch then let’s make a concerted effort to see each other face to face as often as we can. If you don’t want to stay in touch, that is ok too and know that I will miss you. That was August of 2010 and I feel my life has changed for the better since then.

My daughter and I live a charmed life blessed by the incredibly strong and trustworthy community that I put in the effort to maintain. I have never felt more abundance of social ties and support in my life and my child has an amazing network of community and adults who see her in person on a regular basis and are heavily invested in her life and well being.

In the meantime I occasionally spend time with my weak tie loose social circles. Here we all are – out together as FRIENDS WITH FRIENDS and people are checking their facebook status likes and comments – avoiding interacting with the people right in front of them to check on the approval of some distant (more important?) “friends.” I call bullshit on the whole social media/tech/gamfication movement.

I LOVE technology. I use it every day. Programs like Excel and sites like LinkedIn are helpful tools for my life and for maintaining weak ties that are absolutely essential in their own right. BUT technology cannot and will never be a substitute for living a real, present and connected life and for walking through our community with curiosity and mindfulness.

A fundamental need fo every human being is to be noticed, to be truly seen. It is impossible to see the person in front of us if our nose is glued to a glowing screen or we “hide” what we find unsavory from our feeds.


fran December 21, 2012 at 10:39 am

hey tanya, FWIW, i too had a colicky baby and postpartum depression, and i hear you loud and clear on the need for support, a strong shoulder, and someone to whisk that baby away for a little mommy R&R.

i think you misunderstood me. nowhere did i say, or would i say, that hitting “like” on facebook replaces time spent w/friends, family and even strangers, or that staring into a screen while at a dinner table, for example, with friends is either good manners or a good idea!



Tanya Barham December 21, 2012 at 4:48 pm

I think we agree on this. My point was only that we cannot be satisfied with virtual community change. Have you seen the better together site? I love the quote on it that says “We need to look at front porches as crime fighting tools, treat picnics as public health efforts and see choral groups as occasions of democracy.” Obviously using social media to communicate those events is important, but doing small things to build community and social capital in the real world will be the best way to heal our culture. This list is a great start:


fran December 22, 2012 at 10:13 am

i haven’t seen that site, so thanks for sharing it. i like their list, and actually practice a good deal of what’s on it!

happy holidays, tanya.



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