3 a.m. comes awfully early. When that alarm goes off like that it doesn’t wake you up, it scares you up. My wife and I got out of bed barely into December 15 and proceeded to get ready for our flight to Florida. We were flying to Orlando to interview for a position in Gainesville. Our flight left St. Louis at 6:25 A.M. and so we got up earlier than anyone should be made to. I also made the strongest cup of coffee in the history of coffee.
We had an uneventful flight to Florida. We went to pick up our rental car for the 2 hour drive north and as we headed onto the turnpike we made phone calls home. During the drive we heard just glimpses on the radio about another school shooting.
Our hearts sank at the scattered news reports that we were listening to. But as we drove we turned the radio off and talked about the opportunity that could await us in Gainesville. As we drove on we talked about many things and even stopped for lunch. But honestly, we never even gave the school shooting another thought.
That was until we reached our hotel.
Several TV’s were on and every one of them displayed the horrors coming out of Newtown Connecticut. Images of little children running terrified behind panicked teachers, the hurried voices of men and women trying to relay as much information to the public as possible and the tragic early reports of death filled that room. It was too much for anyone to bear.
As the evening wore on the news became clearer and much grimmer.
Why would anyone shoot children? Why would a human being go out of their way to slaughter innocence? Why would evil manifest itself like this?
As Friday turned into Saturday all major networks had descended on this once unknown town and coverage was non-stop. My wife and I watched with tears as story after story came across the screen. Each story made more heartbreaking by the pictures of these beautiful babies and their mourning families.
We tried to process what was going on and could not imagine the immense pain that these families had been forced into. All we wanted to do was hug our own babies. But ours were 800 miles away. We Facetimed them on our iPhones and while it was good to see and hear them, to know that they were safe, it did nothing to quell that itch that every parent gets. We wanted to hold them.
The weekend played on with more news and rehashed news coming out of Newtown. We went about our business as did everyone else. And when we finally were able to pick our kids up on Monday it was with the greatest of joys that we grabbed and kissed them. We knew they had been well taken care of by friends and family that love them dearly but there is nothing, and I mean nothing that will satisfy a parent's heart like holding their children.
And as the week has progressed there have been many discussions about how we as a society move on from here. We, like many other parents, had to reassure our daughter that she was safe to go to school in the following days. She was scared, like many other students, that something like that could happen in our hometown.
So as the news pundits debated gun control and the asinine idea of a link between Asperger’s and the shooting my wife and I discussed how we combat things like this on the home front.
How do you make a difference in your community when the real problem is that we are broken as a whole? What difference can we make on a large scale?
I don’t know. I don’t know how you do that. Maybe someone reading this has a brilliant idea about doing that but it’s not coming from me. But I can tell you how you can start off small. I can tell you how you can start making a difference now. I can tell you how we start to heal our communities and begin to reach out to our neighbors. I can tell you those things because I watched as my wife took our conversation to the next step and made it very real.
Before we picked up our kids on Monday we ran a grabbed a bit to eat at a local restaurant. As we sat down to look at the menus my wife noticed that sitting directly behind us was an elderly lady eating by herself. She looked to be quite elderly and reminded us both of our grandmothers. Every now and then she would mutter softly to herself about something she was reading or laugh at a comic. She seemed to be a very sweet woman.
My wife’s eyes twinkled when she looked at me and said, “Let’s pay for her meal”.
I thought that was a great idea and told her so. I quickly went to the register and did just that. We left a note on her bill expressing happy holidays and blessings to her. We asked the manager not to let her know it was us but that someone had just picked up her tab.
I don’t tell you any of this to make myself look better than I am because I clearly had nothing to do with this. It was all my wife!
I came back to the table to start eating and after a few minutes her server came over with the bill and told her what had happen. She let out a laugh and exclaimed, “Well who would have done that?” I honestly had to choke down my food because tears had welled up. I don’t mean to be dramatic but it was a very touching moment.
As she started to leave she was looking all around to try and find a familiar face. She asked other servers and even the manager about what happened. We had a good time watching her trying to solve this mystery as we paid and went on our way.
And in that little act of random kindness we find our salvation. We live in a broken culture. There is much beauty to our culture, no doubt. There is also much goodness out there but there is just as much bad.
But I believe that my wife is on to something. What would happen to our neighborhoods and communities if each one of us decided and acted upon the fact that we are neighbors? What if we all decided that we would no longer walk around with our noses buried in a device (I know, I know—I’m uber guilty on this one) and instead looked up to have a conversation? What would happen if we dragged our BBQ grills to the driveway instead of the back porch? What would happen if we became intentional about getting to know and care for each other?
Maybe we wouldn’t solve all the world’s ills or prevent all the crimes but maybe, just maybe, our kindness would spread, maybe our relationships would grow and maybe we would begin to take ownership in these tragedies.
Parents, I encourage you to start living this out in front of your children. Let them see you live life like this. Pass on a legacy of kindness and service of others to your children. And in the mean time I would also encourage you to have real and honest discussions with your children and your schools. Talk to your principals and superintendents about what you can do to help.
No law or legislation will affect the next generation like you will. It up to us as parents to demand better of our society, if for no other reason than just because our children deserve it.