Our hearts are heavy for the families of the twenty children and six adults who left home last Friday morning, never to return; for Christmas presents unopened, for bar mitzvahs, high school graduations, and weddings that will never take place; for lives ordinary and extraordinary that will never be fully lived.
In the midst of our collective grief, a spark of hope emerges: on Sunday morning Ann Curry tweeted her intent to perform 20 mitzvahs/acts of kindness in memory of those who lost their lives on Friday – a tangible way to shift the focus from violence to healing. Twitter users quickly modified the hashtag to #26Acts, to include the women who died in Sandy Hook Elementary School. The idea spread to Facebook via a page which had received over 50,000 likes by Thursday night. People left bouquets of flowers tucked under windshield wipers on randomly selected cars. Library patrons opened their favorite books to discover a $5 bill or a gift card tucked inside. Diners left 100% tips with the notation “#26Acts.” Trash collectors were greeted with thank you cards, drawn with chubby crayons gripped tightly in the hands of children who were age-mates of most of those killed.
I share in this grief and draw strength from our impulse to turn tragedy into comfort and hope. But my heart is also heavy for the 28th family grieving the loss of their loved one, ashamed, bewildered, and alone. On the 26 Acts Facebook page, the suggestion that 26 Acts should be changed to 27 Acts, to include the mother of the shooter, was met with scornful comments like, “If you read . . . up, SHE KNEW her son needed help, yet kept it quiet and to herself. . . . I completely disagree and so do a few of my friends when the news keeps saying ‘27 innocent lives were lost.’"
I have yet to hear any news report even suggest that the number of lives lost last Friday was 28.
I am, metaphorically, Adam Lanza’s sister. Thirty-three years ago this spring my brother took the lives of two women in an act of violence brutal enough to make national news.* It is easy to forget – or perhaps impossible to believe - that even those who act in ways that seem purely evil have people who love them. Our grief at the tragedy is mingled with guilt, shame, disbelief and personal loss, and also with unbelievable isolation – our loved one the target of understandable hatred and anger, some of which is also aimed at us.
As I struggled to reconcile the gentle, imaginative, funny, and beloved brother I knew with the person who was capable of perpetrating such violence, our family was given an almost unimaginable gift – the loving witness and continued friendship of the family of one of my brother’s victims; the acknowledgement that we both had lost loved ones, made concrete the next day by members of Janet’s family with this simple gesture: “[O]n that Sunday morning ‘. . . There were two flowers in the front of our sanctuary for us to view as we gathered for worship -- one for the victim and one for the accused, put there by the victim's family’”
So it was with trepidation that I typed #28Acts in the Twitter search box last night, expecting to encounter stronger, more negative, reactions than the ones I found responding to the suggestion that the shooter’s mother should be included. Instead, I found only love and compassion for the Lanza family and the acknowledgement that Peter and Ryan had lost a son and brother, respectively. That gives me hope that they, too, will find some small measure of peace and comfort knowing that there are those who acknowledge their loss and share their grief.
*To answer some of the unanswered questions - My brother did not take his own life – but in a large sense his life ended that day. He was convicted, sentenced to be executed, and spent 2 decades on death row. His sentence was overturned approximately 36 hours before his scheduled electrocution. Largely in response to the requests of all of the family members of one of his victims, and the closest family members of the other, he was resentenced to life without parole.
Copyright © 2012 Nancy Reeves; available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.
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