As soon as my class of second graders came together after the December 14th killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School – many children wanted to talk about it. It wasn’t easy. We talk about the news almost every day. I often do a little review of the news from the paper or news stories I have just heard on NPR on my way to school. The debates and elections were huge for us. We learn so much about how the world works through current events.
Of course there are news items that young ones won’t understand. There are stories I won’t bring up. For obvious reasons. But as soon as we sat down to share News and Journals the kids wanted to talk about Sandy Hook. Of course they did. How could they not be concerned? Since talking about what is happening in the world is what we do, it was as natural as anything to share their feelings.
Their biggest question was, “Why?” And, of course there was no clear answer for that. And, at my insistence, we directed our attention away from the weapons and the shooter. We talked about the children and teachers, the survivors, the sadness, and how hard it would be to get past this. We talked about the bravery of the children and adults in the school.
I am no expert in child psychology. When big tragedies come up I do not know exactly what is the best way to handle it. My first response to our children was – we are safe. Nothing like that will happen to us. I limited our talk to a fairly short time and no one had to say anything if they didn’t want to. I encouraged them to talk to their parents if they wanted and to just remember how lucky we are to have parents and other adults who love us and protect us.
On our first day back from Winter Break, we wrote letters. I told everyone that I wasn’t sure who would open our package – if anyone at all. They didn’t mind. It was doing something that seemed important. When I asked the kids what we could write about, the suggestions were brilliant and sweet and sincere and touching.
I am not sure who to send them to, and maybe it doesn’t really matter. I will mail them.
Sandy Hook Elementary School
Our package is a message in a bottle. And if no one ever reads them, that’s OK. The hour or so that my young friends spent writing and drawing may have been one of the most important things we will do in the two years we’ll be together.
…Dear the person who is reading this note…I don’t know whose hands this will be given to… I love my friends… Dear Kids… Dear Anyone… Dear People in Connecticut… Dear Someone… Dear Guys… To the tragic school friends, families, loved ones… I am not sure who I am writing to…
I feel bad for your friends or teachers… I know you will find new friends… I feel really bad for you and hope that you will be happy… I will always remember you. Please make new friends. You can do it… I always want you to know that you are in my heart… I am so glad that you guys are safe. What matters to me the most is that you are safe and unharmed… You should grow up to be good, nice and be loved… You are safe in a new school and you have a new sweet teacher… I would have tried to save you if I was there… Give support to your friends and look out for others… I know that you were scared and brave and you are cool kids… I know that I can’t bring your friends back but I can give you hope… I know your friends are in God’s hands. I know that you are well protected… If I could bring your friends back to life I would… When I heard your friends were killed I almost burst out crying… Sit by some friends and comfort them… Even though I don’t know you – I still love you… Whenever I think about you guys there is sadness in my heart. I love you guys.
One of the kids asked, before we sat down to write, if she could sign her letter with the word love. “How can you love someone you’ve never met?” asked one. “Well I love them, answered a little boy instantly. Almost all of the letters that grew out of our conversation were signed with the most powerful word there is.
It’s easy to feel hopeless after a tragedy like this; a tragedy which could have been avoided or lessened but for the foolishness of grownups. But as I looked around our classroom and saw those 22 beautiful faces, 22 earnest, sincere, caring children trying to make someone feel better with their words – it gave me hope.
A long time from now, when the folks of Newtown can look back on the memories of their loved ones and smile, when their images bring only happiness - then love will conquer the hate and sickness that brought so much sadness to their little community.