One year ago tomorrow, Adam Lanza shot his mother at home, then drove to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where he killed 26 people and then himself. Twenty of his victims were children. The school building has been torn down, its steel melted, so that nothing identifiable remains. But how should those who must live with this tragedy respond?
Alissa Parker cofounded “Safe and Sound,” a school safety advocacy group in remembrance of her daughter Emilie. Josephine Gay turned seven three days before she was killed. Her mother partnered with Alissa to launch “Safe and Sound”; her father tattooed her newborn footprints and the number 2,560—the number of days his daughter lived—on his left arm.
The New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association started the project of building 20 playgrounds, each one dedicated to a child victim at Sandy Hook. Each of the 26 families has created a memorial website for their loved ones.
In a similar vein, residents of Newtown chose for tomorrow’s anniversary not to hold a public commemoration but to initiate a “Year of Service.” Its purpose is to encourage “small acts or large” that will bring out “the best in each other through repeated acts of service.” They are asking residents willing to join the movement to place a candle in their window.
Newtown resident and psychiatrist John Woodall explains the town’s decision: “We thought, really, what grief is is a form of love, but with the loved one gone, so it’s really the heartbreak of separation from the loved one. So the work of grief is to find a new form for that love, to find a new expression for it, a new commitment, a way to honor the love. . . . We came back to this idea that a commitment to transform that anguish into a commitment to compassion and kindness, that’s where we wanted to keep the focus.”
Dr. Woodall is right: when we find a new expression of love for the one we grieve, we redeem that grief for good. This is a fact with relevance far beyond Newtown.
The Sandy Hook survivors are asking us to mark tomorrow’s anniversary by joining them in service: “On the one year mark of that horrific day, we know that many people across the country will be thinking of the children and educators so tragically taken from us, and wondering how to help. We ask that you consider performing an act of kindness or volunteering with a charitable organization in your local community. In this way, we hope that some small measure of good may be returned to the world.”
Will you honor their request? How will you serve others this weekend as a way of redeeming the Newtown tragedy? And know that in serving others you will imitate the One who “came not to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). As the old song says, “They will know that we are Christians by our love.”