Saturday, December 15, 2012

Out of Our Way

Children are at the center of this tragedy in Connecticut. Yesterday I could barely think about it, the horror is so large. I had to keep it in my peripheral vision.

We had our Shabbat Rocks service for the children last night, and I couldn't go. I just couldn't. Likewise I missed the regular evening service. I had to stay home with my little family, rest, recoup. Not think too much about the hearts that are shattered, all over the world. In heaven and earth.

 Today I've decided to write instead of go pray with my tribe. To me it is a form of prayer. Or maybe I will go to services. There is true comfort in ritual, in prayers together, in praising G-d when the unthinkable happens. Our Mourners Kaddish was created, it is said, for just that reason. To exalt G-d when we may be tempted to curse G-d in our grief. And it must be said in community, among those who love us, those who support us.

Some other thoughts are slowly becoming clear to me.

Our children need us - and it takes a village to raise a child. If you aren't exhausted by parenting, you aren't doing it right. Parents need us. We have to help each other. The children too need us. Especially children with odd parents.

Pretending like it is not our problem is not good enough. Not doing anything is contributing to the kind of tragedy that we see now in a nice, small town of regular people. Under "normal" veneers, we all have our local quirks, and the dangerous among us ask for help long long before they act.

The mentally ill are always with us. What we can do to help is NOT ignore it. Stay involved. Yes, keep informed.

I once lived on a street where a very bipolar mom lost custody of her 3 children. We neighbors were all so relieved. It was sad. We liked her (sometimes). But we loved the kids. Even the "bad" one (who is doing much better now). I made a point to talk to those in authority to help make sure accurate information was being conveyed. I knew when to alert the professionals. I pray for them all still.

Think about how alone children feel who are being raised by parents who are harsh, angry, punishing. Think about how lonely neglected children are. These are our children too. A kind word, an encouraging smile, a willingness to listen. These matter. Children all deserve our love and attention. Offer to help the single parent who is over worked and over stressed, and be kind to the kid who is suspicious of you. Get involved in some way. Let's go out of our way for them.

Schools need us more than ever. Teachers have so many children, so many challenges. They are there to help support parents, but also have to make up for parents who don't know how to be loving and kind, or who never show up for conferences, or are absent all together. Show up in school, help out. Tutor a child, or join Big Brother or Big Sister. We can go out of our way to help.

Comforting those who are in mourning is Jewish law. It's a commandment, a mitzvah. It also allows us to DO something in times of tragedy. I volunteer on the Consolation Committee here in my town; we simply help serve and clean up at Shiva (service of mourning) in the bereaved family's homes.

Anyone who suffers needs someone to reach out. And if their suffering is prolonged, then so too should our support be steadfast. It gives hope to those who are in despair.

Every time we take time to be involved with our schools, with our churches, mosques and temples, with our communities, we strengthen all of us. It takes going out of our way, out of our own lives and out into the circles of people you know. It takes tracking down who needs help.
The Helpers: Mental health professionals and fire and police professionals also need our support. Don't forget our clergy.

If the loss of so many lives is horrific to us, imagine the challenge to those first responders. Imagine the medical personnel, the professionals who will work around the clock to help the families, friends, the entire town, the family and friends far-flung, the county. Those who provide comfort on a daily basis, social workers, counselors, pastors, rabbis, medics, all of them. They need our appreciation - not just in times of outstanding grief, but in times of City Council meetings, and when we are voting local officials into office. Local budgets support our helping professionals. Make a point to get involved.

On a state and national level, remember we have cut funding for years from mental health programs. We now have more mentally ill people on the streets (I see them all the time) than ever before. It's not easy to get treatment for a huge part of the population that are not covered under insurance, but don't qualify for free care. We can bring some pressure on our representatives to keep funding reasonable.

National organizations set the standards and are charged with distributing grants and making sure local programs are effective. Check out this excellent site, NIMH. Remember they help with programs for victims of violence, disaster relief, and soldiers coming home from war, only to fight their own battles at home, as they learn to reintegrate into society and their loving families.

It's clear why people chose to live in small towns. They know one another, they love each others children, they celebrate together and they mourn together. They share values, they agree to treat each other well. They help each other daily. Regularly. It is a part of their lives. They almost always know who is disturbed, and the police force knows, and the mental health professionals know. The shelters know.

Yes, people get lost in larger towns, in cities, but it doesn't have to happen. Many large cities still have their street, their building, their neighborhood. They still have families and friends and all the places we connect as people, raising our children, caring for our elderly.

Knowing is not enough. There has to be action. Caring, loving, but action that keeps people safe - from themselves. It keeps us all safe. We must go out of our way.

If we want to slow down the insanity that breaks our hearts and terrifies our children, we must value and strengthen community more. There is much independence in this country, and that is good. But it can only work as a society with the loving and sure ties of those we live among.

WE are the safety net.
ps. and yes, guns and gun laws play a part. However, in a strong community this isn't the issue. People who own guns, in my opinion, have one of three reasons. Either they do so for practical reasons, like they live in the country, (where yes, there are animals and sometimes they hunt) or 2. because they are afraid and feel like they need protection/defense. Or 3. because they are up to no good - illegal use, mass murder etc. Or some combination of these three. (I'm sure some would say there is a "cool" factor or "because I can" factor but I'm not going there.)

There is only one group that needs no guns. Others may need oversight. Cops will tell us, beg us not to let everyone own or carry. It's a tough topic, and there are not easy answers. Just like the abortion debate, we need better thinking. All abortions shouldn't be legal, nor should all abortions be illegal. That's stupid. All guns shouldn't be legal. Nor should NO guns be legal.

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