Looking toward brighter days


Since December 14th, I have been carrying around a heavy heart. It seems some people want to talk about it and others avoid it at all cost. Facebook is equal parts silent and loud. But talk we must because I believe as former Minnesota Teacher of the Year, Katy Smith, does that we are indeed at a tipping point. Katy says this:

I have shed so many tears with so many parents and teachers this week. Today, one week after the shooting in Newtown, I haven’t cried and that bothers me. I have decided to be a part of a tipping point, a tipping point that changes the world to make it better for kids. I do not want the shooting in Newtown to just become part of the fabric of my life. I want it to change me. I want it to be a personal call for action. I have written each victims name and promise to do one thing in honor of each of them to make the world less violent.

Today, in honor of Charlotte Bacon (age 6), I called my Congressman’s office and shared my concerns about assault weapons and putting guns in schools.

“I want it to change me.”

Did you read that? It might sound weird or dark or morose, but I get that on so many levels and I get that every single time a tragedy strikes.  I always think of my life as before and after. When my parents survived a barn fire, when my brother walked through the hell of alcoholism and came out the other side, when a family saga went down that was worthy of a Jane Smiley novel, when Andrew Wilfahrt died….it’s all before and after for me. How am I now different? How am I better? How, How, HOW will I honor the pain and those lost and the lessons learned to make the world a better place?

When people in your own life overcome major obstacles or survive against the odds or live through hell, we take that insider’s view and, hopefully, adjust our way of thinking and being and interaction just a bit to accommodate what I always hope is an expansion of the heart.  But when tragedies like Sandy Hook occur, it seems almost impossible to figure out where to go, what to do, how to operate in the after. And, it seems too ridiculous to operate as before.

I admit to frustration after Andrew died.  I can still call up his funeral and feel that wind blow and hear those trumpets wail and I wrote from my heart and I tried to make some noise and yet the war rages onward.  People, too many people, are still dying and no amount of writing changes that. I do know that I love my service men and women in a different way than I ever did before. I do know that no matter the politics, these men and women are owed a much better life than we give them upon return…and so before Andrew and after? I  woke up to a war and yet there is still a war. But I was lead down a path I never expected to take and that was fighting for marriage equality. So, before and after are not always easily connected.

And now, with Sandy Hook just pulsing through my veins, I am with Katy. I want it to change me, but I am too much in the middle to see this new path.

And so I am doing what I always do, which is to start small and to write.

We decorated our tree two weeks ago, and it became so full of a hodgepodge of the ornaments the kids have been given or made in the last 10 years that we stopped there. Just lights and family chaos. Not a single shiny ball, bow, or ribbon to be seen.

Until tonight.  

I took my sharpie to 20 red balls and wrote the initial of each child who died on December 14th. I said each name and hung the ball and thought of Katy’s words and about how I am going to begin my after.