Last night, as I was going to bed, I read that 26 people, including 18 children had died at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, only a few miles away from where a friend lives. Like many people, I cried as I went to bed. This morning, the numbers were up to 28 dead, including 20 children. Twenty children who will never get to open Christmas presents or spin a dreidel or celebrate a birthday, graduation, or wedding.
As my mind and heart attempted to make sense of the horrible events in Connecticut, I turned to books to help me process my feelings. Books have the answers to any question, right? Sadly, not so much today. I thought about the books I read when I was age of most of the victims. I thought of “Inch by Inch” by Leo Lionni, a book that I read in first grade. It tells the story of a very clever inchworm who outsmarts a killer nightingale by inching his way away from certain death. An option those kindergarteners did not have that day. Unable to download an electronic copy of the book, I found a video on YouTube. I watched the story again and was saddened when the story was cut short just before the ending, much like the lives of those children.
As so many victims were kindergarteners, I thought about a book that I had never read called “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum. I decided to download the book on my iPad, and read it in record time this afternoon. Most people are familiar with the posters that became popular showing the kindergarten credo that Fulghum sets forth. The credo includes sharing everything, taking naps every afternoon, and cleaning up your own mess. One pearl of wisdom seems particularly appropriate today:
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup—they all die. So do we.
The children in Newtown learned that lesson too early and too horrifically. They are supposed to learn about death by watching the seed in the Styrofoam cup sprout, bloom, and then die. They are supposed to gradually come to realize that all things die, even things (and people) we love. They are not supposed to learn about death by watching another child bleed out before their very eyes.
In the “Deep Kindergarten” chapter, Fulghum writes:
A six-year-old will not understand that “By and large it has been demonstrated that violence is counterproductive to the constructive interaction of persons and societies.” True. But a child can better understand that the rule out in the world and in the school is the same: Don’t hit people. Bad things happen.
But, the truth is that bad things happened in Connecticut that demonstrated the counterproductive nature of violence. These bad things did not happen because the children hit anyone. These innocents did not do anything to deserve the violence that was unleashed upon them. They did nothing to the shooter; they were simply children going to a school in the town where the shooter happened to live. There was no “eye for an eye” here, just senseless violence.
Fulghum goes on to write about a quote from Mother Teresa:
We can do no great things; only small things with great love.
In the aftermath of such a tragedy, people always ask “What could have been done to prevent it? What can be done to help those who experienced it?” So often, we are without answers to either question. So often, we can do nothing more than pray: with great love for the children, their parents, their families, their friends, and their town. Prayer is such a small thing. A simple “Help,” is enough for God when all other words fail. It was the only prayer I could manage last night, and it may be the only prayer many people, especially the parents, can manage for many days to come.
Finally, about three-fourths of the way through the book, I read a story called “Crayolas.” In it, Fulghum talks about how much better life would be if instead of bombs, we dropped Crayolas from the sky. A happiness weapon, a beauty bomb, he called it. Few experiences are quite as joyful in childhood as opening a box of Crayolas. Fulghum posits that if we dropped boxes of Crayolas that
People would smile and get a little funny look on their faces and cover the world with imagination instead of death.
And, I thought, “That is a great idea. I can send Crayolas to Connecticut.” Think about the impact that a simple box of crayons could have on a grieving child. That box contains magic and catharsis. It would allow a child to express feelings that might otherwise go hidden and unresolved. These children are so young that many cannot even write yet. Unlike the college students at Virginia Tech or the moviegoers in Colorado, they don’t yet have the words to express how they feel, let alone the ability to put those words to paper. But, they can draw, scribble, and color the world with their imaginations.
As I sit in my flat, I am thinking, “Are you crazy? What those children really need is counseling, not crayons.”
Then, a list of questions presents itself:
- How many children attend the school? I have read reports from 450 to 700.
- Where would I send the donation? To the school or to a relief organization?
- How exactly would I send all those crayons? I can imagine the call to Crayola. “You are calling from where, and you want to send how many boxes of crayons where?”