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Less than 6 Degrees of Separation from the 6 year olds in Newtown

Like everyone, I was shocked by the tragedy that unfolded in Newtown, CT last week. The horror, unthinkable. This weekend I am shocked again.

I am shocked by the number of people in my own personal feeds who have direct, personal connections with the families that lost precious lives.

One by one they have come forward to share their grief, with photos, stories and links of where to send help, in some cases. I will share those links at the end of this post.

I realize that I have more Facebook friends than the average person — close to 1800 at last glance, and several more via Instagram and Twitter who I follow close enough to consider more than a casual acquaintance, if less than a close friend.

What else can you call it when you’ve watched their children’s first steps – commiserated and celebrated on a near daily basis?

My community is large. They say we are all connected — six degrees of separation. But for me, the degrees seem fewer. A friend’s friend lost her niece. Another friend lost a young cousin. A member of a private group that I belong to is a photographer. She never thought the portraits of a smiling 6 year old that she recently took, would be broadcast on the news in the wake of a tragic shooting. And now, I’ve just learned that a friend lost her nephew — Noah Pozner — the youngest child to die in this tragedy.

It took me almost 24 hours to speak about this tragic event with my sons. I didn’t want them to know at all. But I knew they were going to hear.

I wanted the words to come from me. I wanted to frame this in a way that let them continue feeling safe.

I didn’t want them to fear going to school, or worry that this might happen to them. Even though it might have – as my Facebook feed suggests. That is my worry to shoulder. Not theirs.

I can only take the news in small doses right now. I get it when people want to turn it off. Turn off the news. Tune out. I’ve heard many complain about the details that are being shared right now. It’s too personal, they say. It’s better left to the families and the mourners. Leave them alone. But I don’t agree. I cannot. These people are not alone. They are not faceless strangers. Like the intricate web of connection that makes up my Facebook world.

We are all connected in the wake of this tragedy. The details, the photos, etc, they do personalize it. But what is this, if not personal?

While I cannot personally fathom the depths of the pain and trauma of the families that lost loved ones, I also can’t turn away from it. This event has touched us all, and has wounded us all, to some degree. Life goes on, but never the same. What model do we have to process these sort of events?

Most of us have none.

This tragedy, made me want to hug my children closer. But it also made me recall my grandparents, both of whom lost most of their families in the holocaust. I recall them speaking, in guarded and protective ways, of some of the horror that happened. It’s amongst some of my earliest memories. I don’t think my childhood was compromised by hearing about it, but who is to say?

I grew up knowing that evil does exist.  But children process things differently than adults.

In fact, I recall someone telling me at a rather young age how to survive a shooting. They advised that when you were in a crowd and someone was firing a gun at you, you must fall down and play dead. In my childhood brain it seemed a game. An acting exercise. Yet it was something someone in my family felt I must know, even as a small child.

I’d forgotten it, and I blanched a little yesterday, when speaking to my sons. I realized it was probably something my own children should know too.

How was it that my grandparents spoke to me?

Somehow they managed to share their stories without sharing the terror, that surely they must have understood. They emphasized how we must look for the helpers, how we must honor and remember the dead, and that we must survive and strive for a better future.

I’m having a problem with those that criticize how many voices have risen to write about this tragedy, to share the details and to tell the stories of what happened, and how they are affected. This isn’t about traffic for most of us. It’s about processing and about community.

We, the living, are all connected. We cannot undo what’s been done, but now… we must hold each other up, with prayer and deeds. This is the message for my children, and for me now. There are far fewer than 6 degrees of separation here. This tragedy touches us all.

Here are some of the things you can do to help yourself and others heal:

Create a Virtual Quilt
Thank a Teacher
Join the Virtual Prayer Vigil – regardless of your faith
Contribute in Noah Pozner’s Memory
Give to the United Way of Western Connecticut

If you are a blogger, and you are comfortable sharing your feelings, write a post.  If you do, please leave me a link. I would like to read it.

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