By Brian Bloom
What an extraordinary confluence of thought this week as I went from reading and typing hundreds of elementary children’s letters to Santa with the horror that hit us all in the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.
There are no words to describe the pain and anguish that community, and by extension, all parents must feel when losing a child. And I can’t imagine the feelings each parent had to feel as they waited to learn if their child was safe.
Twenty-seven families and hundreds of others associated with them will look upon this holiday season as a reminder of what they have lost.
I can’t fathom how difficult it will be to remove the already wrapped present from beneath the Christmas tree. I can’t fathom the anger, the frustration, the questioning of faith that will surely last for all eternity.
One father said it best when he told a news reporter that he had never shaken so much in his life while he awaited word of his child’s safety. And I can’t imagine how many are shaken to their core as they understand that theirs is not.
Politicians from the President down have voiced demands for a serious conversation on handgun control. Twenty-year old Adam Lanza allegedly used two handguns registered to his mother to commit this unspeakable atrocity.
Lanza, according to his brother, suffered from a mental illness. He allegedly murdered his mother at her home, drove to the front door of this elementary school, walked inside and decimated two classrooms of students along with six educators.
While I have my own opinion on gun control, I question instead, where is the discussion on help for the mentally ill?
Over the past 20 years, the percentage of funds for an increasing population of mentally ill individuals continues to be cut.
In the past two years, states facing severe financial shortfalls have cut at least $4.35 billion in public mental health spending from 2009 to 2012, according to the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD). These cuts translate into loss of vital services such as housing, treatment, access to psychiatric medications and crisis services.
Adam Lanza, according to former classmates, was not abused or bullied. Adam Lanza, according to those who claim to know him was quiet, unassuming and alone. According to those who say they have some knowledge of him, Adam Lanza was mentally ill – with two handguns in his hands.
While Christmas will be forever tarnished for those who face unfathomable pain, it must remain a time of wonder and joy for those who see the world in its brightest light.
We were reminded of that message this week as we present our annual “Letters to Santa.”
We couldn’t help but be moved by the eloquence of some of the elementary students. Certainly some of the children considered only the commercial in their letters – and that, according to the many retailers struggling in this economy, is all right.
But there were others that touched our soul.
There were the letters that sought nothing for themselves but, instead, for a brother or sister, parent or friend. There were the letters that only wanted to chat Santa up and others that resorted to begging with repeated please, please, please at the end of their wish list.
One apologized to Santa for telling his classmates that Santa wasn’t real. “I believe” he urgently scribbled, “and I love you.” There’s nothing like trying to get in good graces at the last minute.
Most claimed to have been a good boy or girl – some sheepishly admitting pretty good, or, at least, recently so. But all put their hopes in the dream of a Jolly red-suited man with a happy ho-ho-ho and so it shall stay for generations to come.
Moved by the children’s missives I reached out to a number of community citizens and asked them if they could have anything they wanted, what would it be this holiday season? And to that, I shall provide an answer of my own.
All I want for Christmas is peace, you see. I’m not talking about world peace and the end of conflict – although that would be a blessing beyond belief. What I’m talking about is peace of the soul, for myself and so many I know to be in turmoil.
I want peace for a brother, mentally ill himself. I wish him the clarity to enjoy the limits that have been placed upon him, knowing he is always in my heart.
I want peace for another brother, younger than I, who was my mother’s care taker through years of her Alzheimer’s decline. Despite all of the struggles in keeping her comfortable, this will be his first without his mother there to share the table. Bless him and his memories of her.
I want peace for those who have lost a loved one – recent or in the past. Memories tend to be happy when we reflect. May they keep you warm amidst the heartache.
I want peace for the angry, for I wish them the ability to remember when they, like the elementary students whose letters fill our pages, once knew the wonder of Christmas.
May you all share in the joy of a child’s smile. May you all have someone to hold you close this holiday season and may you all remember – and help – those who do not.