I felt so lost. I couldn't do anything to set right the murders of sweet little kids in Connecticut. The mall shooting here in Oregon got to me too, of course, but the magnitude and youth of those babies weighed heavily on my mind. It still does, in those moments when the Christmas bustle calms enough for my mind to settle there. I have a toddler to remind me to put on a cheerful face, to distract me from more wordly concerns; I can solve problems like tiny cars that aren't lined up just right, food that's too hot, potty accidents. Those are things I can handle.
To say I was feeling blue would be an understatement. Our kids deserve a better world than this one. A world where things are fair. A world where goodness outweighs the evil. And when terror breaks through the wall of happiness I've worked so hard to build, my first inclination is to retreat from the world further, to pull myself and my sweethearts back into our cozy little cave and just say "f-you!" to the rest of the world.
As it happens, I subscribe to PostSecret's Facebook page, and a the day before the horror in Connecticut, Frank Warren (creator of PostSecret) posted this:
Part of a holiday letter I wrote to my daughter . . .
If you ever catch yourself feeling blue, as we all sometimes do from time to time, here are ten things that if you do three days in a row (I promise) will make you feel better.
1. In the morning write down five things you are grateful for.
2. Think about a random act of kindness you can do for someone that day.
3. Eat well (you know what that means); drink well (no coffee, soft drinks or alcohol).
4. Exercise hard for 20 minutes.
5. Write an old friend an email or better yet a letter.
6. Actively relax, meditate or pray for 10 minutes.
7. Take a walk in the sun.
8. Watch a John Hughes movie like "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" or "The Breakfast Club".
9. Sleep deep and long.
10. Remember that you are loved (I promise).
Number two remembered itself to me the next day.
I was more than blue; I was horror-struck, depressed, angry. And so helpless. But here's the thing: I want a better world for my son. I want a better world for my son. And I don't get a better world by being afraid to go out in the world, or by being angry, or by languishing in helplessness. All that gets me is a child who grows up afraid and withdrawn. The answer must be to go out and do good in the face of bad; to commit random acts of kindness that, while they can't erase the random acts of evil, can blunt the edge of the terror I feel and begin to balance the way I see the world.
If there are people (like me) out there committing small acts of kindness, it can't be all bad.
You might have seen this quote somewhere in the past several days; I saw it posted a couple of times on Facebook, and I reposted it myself:
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers — so many caring people in this world.—Mister Rogers
Needing to feel like a helper, I did a few small random acts of kindness that Friday afternoon. It really did make me feel more grounded, less adrift. The boys and I went bigger that evening, and that helped too. The trick is not to stop. Whether it's giving another customer a spare coupon, or handing a sack lunch and clean new socks to a homeless guy at an intersection. Whether it's buying a toy for the Wishing Tree at the mall so a kid can have a Christmas present, or dropping some cans of food in a donation barrel. We can all do small things to make the world one full belly or two warm feet happier.
Please, whatever kind of help you can give, be a helper. Smile at someone on the street. Express your appreciation to your server at a restaurant. If you have a spare, pass it along to someone who needs it. Don't just hope and wish and pray for a changed world; be the change.