Here is the setting: a quiet spot by an Adirondack river, early morning, almost winter solstice. Blue jays, chickadees, nuthatches, evening grosbeaks, mourning doves and a congregation of grey squirrels swoop in for some breakfast as the sky lightens to day. Inside the quiet house, the cats nibble at their crunchies, the refrigerator hums, and the kitchen clock ticks loudly. There is a quiet peace in our northern forest home.
Yesterday we were out in the world. We visited stores and shops and greeted shopkeepers with festive holiday cheer. The sun, although low on the horizon, was bright. Clouds decorated the sky over the high peaks. On our way home we stopped to buy our Christmas tree. Once we pulled in the driveway, there were Christmas cards in our mailbox, waiting to say hello from friends and family far away. There is an undercurrent of "things going on" everywhere we turn. This is the festive atmosphere that surrounds us as we approach the winter solstice every year. This year, for many, is no exception.
In light of recent events, however, there is something else going on in the undercurrent of these dark days. We have been made aware of unimaginable sorrow that has been endured by people just like us, people who live a couple hundred miles away in a small town in Connecticut that will forever be changed by the terrifying act of a single young man. Details pile up, and are repeatedly offered to us as news bits on television, radio, newspaper and internet. We can now imagine quite clearly how it felt to have such a horrifying thing happen in their community.
In the immediate aftermath of Dec. 14, conversations turned to blame. The United States has more gun violence than all other countries, so blame is placed on those who continually argue for a citizen's right to "bear arms." Blame is placed on the media, because they sensationalize the killers, and depressed suicidal individuals are immortalized when they choose to go out taking innocent lives with them. Copycat mentally ill individuals get "ideas" when they read or listen to all the details provided by the media. Movies and television shows portray famous actors wielding guns and choosing violence, and it is accessible to every one of us, no matter what age we are. Those fictionalized stories, rife with guns and gun action, make up the "juice" of many of our accepted forms of entertainment. There is plenty of blame to go around.
Graphs and charts show us how much gun violence our country experiences compared with other countries. Mass shootings are compared to one another. Their frequency and locations and types of gun are counted. Gun laws are examined and discussed, but helpful action does not happen. Politics becomes involved, and logic vanishes. Whether we like it or not, guns are everywhere, including the hands of the mentally ill.
Taking a deep breath
We need to step back and take a deep breath. We need to do something to realign our course, each of us. We can't undo the damage that has befallen our Connecticut neighbors. History cannot that easily be reinvented. However, we can make a difference in the other direction. We can offer more kindness to the world. In facing the awful losses suffered, we ought to find a way to add something back. All of us can do something to make a difference by being generous, by showing random acts of kindness whenever we can.
Ideas for adding light
The best idea is first. Speak to the people in your life who you care about. Tell them you love them. Don't pass up your chances. Be extra nice to little kids. Show them there are good people in the world. Volunteer at a school, or donate to one of their drives-bake sales for school trips, raising money for a new computer lab or scoreboard, attending basketball and hockey games-all can make a difference to our kids and the teachers who work with them every day. Support improvements in mental health availability for every person, especially school-aged children.
Visit an elderly neighbor or relative, and bring some of your world into their lives. See what you can do to help them out. Send cards and letters to our military family, those serving our country far away from home. Donate to food pantries. Volunteer at the Humane Society, or better still, adopt a pet and bring some love into your home. Remember those who have lost loved ones, and offer your biggest hug. Be there for someone. Since so much light was erased from the world on Dec. 14, take it upon yourself to add some light back, wherever and however you can.
Whenever the concept of terrorism becomes real, we are humbled in a big way. Like a bolt of lightning, or an airplane intentionally hitting an office building, or a mentally ill person with guns coming into a packed movie theater, there are times life just becomes incomprehensible. We can't comprehend someone killing our children. So we need to be diligent, and we need to be wary. We need to keep our eyes open, and listen to folks who sound deeply depressed and strange. We need to keep guns away from the mentally ill.
As a country, we need to create access to better mental health care, and we need to not back off when discussion about this comes up. We need to look out for one another, especially the most vulnerable among us. And somehow, we need to add something good back when bad luck or pure evil takes joy and beauty away. Find some peace in nature, in the quiet of the forest. Look at the animals who live here with us, and feel their unencumbered spirits in the rivers and trees. Breathe it in. Remember, after the solstice, light slowly comes back to us. But it does return. Let's trust that.
Have a sincere and peaceful holiday.
Randy Lewis lives in Paul Smiths, and is the author of "Actively Adirondack: Reflections of Mountain Life in the 21st Century," Adirondack Center for Writing's People's Choice Award for Best Book 2007.