What I've learned

Friday January 25, 2013

Here we are, following the holidays, still dealing with the tragedy of Newtown, Conn.

It is now "too close to home" spanning our country in its entirety. I have stopped watching the news, particularly at night, not because I want to be ignorant to what is happening in the world, but because I want to be able to sleep, and live my life on a daily basis free of fear.

I believe in the right to bear arms. I grew up with an extended family of hunters. While I wasn't a fan of killing wildlife (I had, on occasion, hunted with my dad when I was only single-digits old and would purposely make noises, open candy bars loudly, break branches, walk heavily and clumsily to scare away any potential "victims") it was a family tradition. It put food on our table, it brought joy to those who hunted.

I remember my cousin Danny shot a deer that was so old it had no teeth. The family joke was, he didn't shoot the deer, the deer died of a heart attack when hearing the gunshot. These are good memories, and all were done with respect for and safety of others. My parents certainly educated us on the danger of firearms, as there was always a locked gun cabinet filled with my dad's prized firearms in our homes. My father didn't own Uzis, or semi-automatic rifles. I wonder, how does one acquire them? Why would anyone need one, excluding our beloved military?

I am grateful for the period of time in which I grew up. Seemingly endless bicycle rides across town, doors unlocked, keys left in the ignition of cars, no cell phones ... good grief we had party lines. Listening to my parents talk about the drills they had in school in case of atomic bomb attacks, I have always felt fortunate that I grew up in a time where that wasn't a daily threat.

I am not saying there wasn't crime, I remember arriving home with my mother and siblings, when my mother opened the door, there was a set of boots behind the door, and a man wearing those boots, who pushed the door back at her. All my dad's guns were lined up against the wall. As my mother swiftly and quickly pulled us kids up the hill to the car, I remember seeing a second man looking down at us through the picture window. This was frightening; it is something my family will never forget. It took a very long time to feel safe again.

How are the survivors of the victims, those who witnessed this horrendous senseless act ever going to feel safe again? How will they combat the pictures in their mind, the pain in their hearts, the sadness in their souls? Crime, evil have always existed, but it seems to me that it is snowballing from north to south, east to west. Soon all schools will have emergency drills in the event of something as heinous as what took place in Newtown.

When tragedy of this magnitude strikes, I am reminded of Charles Dickens: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." People caring about and helping each other and their neighbors is such a beautiful thing; to me it is the best of mankind. I focus on the beauty of that because if I focused on the bad, I would live in a constant state of fear. What quality of life is that?

We participated in and witnessed neighbors helping neighbors on a local level in 2011 when Tropical Storm Irene devastated much of Vermont. Flooding took out roads, bridges, homes and businesses. I was so proud that I lived in Vermont because of the manner in which neighbors helped neighbors, where hands were held out, where community pulled together to help one another. I found it very moving.

I believe there are "gifts," if you will, when something tragic happens. I have learned that with every tragedy if I keep an open mind and heart, and am willing to be humbled, I am blessed with the gift of perspective. Perspective changes, priorities change. However, while roads, bridges, homes can be rebuilt, replaced, but lives cannot.

I hold onto gratitude in my heart for the safety of my family and friends, and the knowledge that life is precious, beautiful. I feel it important to let my loved ones know how much they mean to me. I say "I love you" so often to my family and friends, in person and via phone conversations that I accidentally ended a conversation with a bill collector the other day with "I love you." I bet you he was surprised.

Just as Sept. 11 changed all of our lives, these "massacres" are changing ours, too. How do we protect our children? How do we protect our families, ourselves? How do we stop these heinous crimes from happening? How can we feel safe in a world where it seems peril is every where? I wish I had the answer, I wish someone had the answer.

I believe in the power of prayer. When I hear myself or someone else saying, "All I can do is just pray," I think to myself, "Just?" For me (a very grateful recipient of many answered prayers) prayer is massive, huge, the best thing we can do for one another. There is absolutely nothing we can do or say to change the devastating outcome of Newtown, but we can pray for them, we can offer our hand, sit in silence, just being present with the families of those whose lives were taken away and we can learn from the pain of others.

Let our loved ones know we love them.

Whatever your religion, your spirituality or beliefs, let us pray, meditate, visualize strength and healing for the families, friends, neighbors, teachers, students, emergency rescue teams whose lives were changed today.

Let us also take from this the gift of perspective. Slow down, take time to enjoy your family, your life, and let us be grateful for all that we have at this moment. By the way, I call my higher power "God."

Donna M. Scully is a resident of Vernon.


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