When Bad Things Happen – by Charlotte Canelli

Read Charlotte Canelli’s column in the December 21, 2012 edition of the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin.

As a librarian, I have taken an unofficial oath. That oath is based on the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights. I promise to respect all freedoms of speech, expression, and access to information. As a public librarian, I vow to provide materials and information that present all points of view and I must be careful not appear political or to espouse doctrinal disapproval. As a library director I must challenge censorship “in the fulfillment of responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.”

This column, therefore, should take care to refrain from being a forum for any vehement and obnoxious opinion, political or partisan.

Yet, I can express my rage and shock this week after the horrific event in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14. I can share with you my raw and visceral feelings. In our struggle to understand that event, I can guide some of you who have some of those same feelings to resources.

I have written several times in this column that my husband Gerry and I have each suffered the loss of a child, my daughter to disease and Gerry’s to a tragic accident. These were and still are years of immeasurable grief for us, parents who have outlived children.

Yet, last Friday night it was strikingly apparent that Gerry and I could simply not embrace the unspeakable and outrageous suffering of those parents who had lost children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. We could not even imagine their pain.

That night we cried fresh tears for those parents who will always, always hold those sweet, tender children in their hearts. We know that grief and yet it is different than ours. It is the unimaginable grief of senseless violence against their precious children.

American hearts were all broken December 14. The hearts of those of us who have lost children were simply broken yet again.

Many adults are reflecting on this senseless tragedy. They are concerned about the children in this country, or perhaps even around the world, who are asking questions about the rampage. Schools everywhere are reaching out to children and parents with support and resources. Libraries in towns closest to Newtown, CT are especially aware that children need a watchful eye during this holiday season. One of the nation’s most progressive public libraries, the Darien Public Library in Darien, CT is facilitating discussions by licensed therapists from family centers in the surrounding communities. They are inviting adults to “talk about the events, the impact on their children, and ask for advice” in two sessions in their library’s community room.

The Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners has listed resources on their website for adults to help children in the aftermath of such a frightening event. Other libraries are compiling lists of their own. Many libraries are posting links to that information on their websites and their Facebook pages.

Rabbi and author Harold Samuel Kushner lives just north of us in Natick, Massachusetts. For 24 years he led his congregation of Temple Israel in that town. His son, Aaron, died from a rare disease (the premature aging disease, progeria) in 1977 at the age of 14. In 1981 Rabbi Kushner wrote his first book, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” In that book, Kushner questions why there is so much suffering and pain on earth and why so many of us suffer loss. Kushner’s book has been republished many times in the last thirty years and it remains a classic. It is the book that people reach for in times of great sorrow when we need to be consoled.

The year he died in 2003, Fred Roger included a chapter on helping children to deal with tragic events in the news in “The Mister Rogers Parenting Book” (2003). In one chapter Fred Rogers reflects on his own childhood and the messages his mother imparted to him. He writes that children often are watching us for cues and that we don’t always know they are watching. It’s important, Fred Rogers wrote, to understand that the scariest thing for children is to know their parents are scared. Comforting words from a parent will reduce that fear.

The resilient parents of Grace McDonnell, a victim of the Sandy Hook massacre, have asked us to model Grace who didn’t have an ounce of hatred in her at the tender age of seven. At a time like this we are all vulnerable; we are in the midst of the holidays, days when life can either be full of grace and goodness or when it can be unbearably lonely and stressful. To honor Grace McDonnell’s too-short life, this can be a time to reach out with generosity and compassion, leaving hatred behind.

In just a few weeks “Random Acts of Kindness Then and Now: the 20th Anniversary of a Simple Idea” will be published and available in public libraries. There are many versions of books with examples and stories of compassion, anonymous generosity and simple kindnesses including “Practice Random Acts of Kindness: Bring More Peace, Love and Compassion into the World” (with a forward by Rabbi Kusher in the 2007 edition.) The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation (RAK) has a website with resources for everyone, including educators.

The RAK website lists February 11-17, 2013 as Random Acts of Kindness Week. We don’t have to wait for that week to begin. As poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850) wrote: “That best portion of a good man’s life; his little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love.”

Everyone at the Morrill Memorial Library wishes you peaceful and safe holidays.

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