Resilience will Rise from the Heartbreak at Sandy Hook

Unspeakable. Disturbing.  Heavy heart.  Shocking beyond belief.  Grief-stricken.   Hardiness. Resourcefulness. Mental toughness.


School Children Living Life

Upon arriving home, I went straight to hugging my little boy. He was fast asleep with his leg pinned up probably dreaming away of that Power Ranger Samurai Megazord Action Figure he wants Santa Claus to bring him next week. I looked at and hugged my son repeatedly in the hopes of keeping him safe forever and in the hopes of blocking out the images of kids running from Sandy Hook elementary school in fear of getting shot by a young mad man.  I cannot imagine what a five year old thinks and feels when a crazed individual comes into their safe haven.  When traveling in Japan, my son felt like a little prince. He was showered with candy from strangers.  He took photos of posing enthusiastic Japanese men and women. He was trusting.  Most kids are trusting.  The poor little five year old kids at Sandy Hook.  Did they realize what was happening? Did their little bodies fall into shock?  Did they cry for their mommy and daddy?  What were those last minutes like?

The kids that witnessed the events will never be the same but they will, as history tends to show, be resilient.  They will grow older but they will forever ask themselves why would anyone go and hurt a class of kindergartners?  It’s a sense of the surreal. But their resilience will build up. But they will probably go through PTSD first.  Once they get through these months of fear, grief, heartbreak and numbness they will develop a hardier core. Unfortunately, they will be going through this process for a while to come.  Who knows when they will eventually return to school? Will there now be steel doors resistant to being broken down by a crazed gunman intent on doing the unimaginable? Resilience will come from all directions.

The American Psychological Association suggests “10 Ways to Build Resilience”, that sounds like they were taken straight out of a self-help book or seminar. One of the ten ways includes: “Maintaining good relationships with close family members, friends and others.”  That sounds like sound advice but what happens when those good friends were murdered right next to you or you heard their screams of despair?   Another way to build resilience includes “avoid seeing crises or stressful events as unbearable problems.”  I must admit that growing up in the South Bronx in extreme poverty could have clouded my future but I did take this advice to heart and it was what got me through. It’s what gets me through all situations. Everything is bearable and could be gotten through. Some mornings may be an exercise in pushing through sheer exhaustion but one can always break on through to the other side (I do love the Doors). Something we have seen at the national consciousness level since 9/11 is the tactic of taking “decisive actions in adverse situations.”  There is no way another airplane hostage situation would occur where no passenger takes action.   Adverse situations that we must overcome at an individual, community or national level should serve as a call to action.


Another widely touted route for building resilience has been the classroom.  Classrooms are meant to give students an opportunity to develop a sense of belonging and involvement. These two characteristics can help reduce the feelings of alienation and disengagement. Supposedly, with that kind of connection in the school, students will have more of a protective shield against the adverse circumstances that life throws at them. Ironic, isn’t?  In the United States, the classroom, if it doesn’t undergo a process of becoming a prison, is not necessarily a place for developing a sense of warmth, security and belonging. These days the classroom has the bully or the mean girls.  These days the classroom has the disaffected alienated kid that somehow has access to guns. These days the classroom has been widely painted in the blood of our children. Nonetheless resilience will come. These younger children- they will overcome. Much community resources will be placed there and the adverse environment will become one of supreme emotional support. I can only hope they can feel the collective hug we are enveloping them in.

With all the upcoming resources that will go into Sandy Hook, children will be taught to accept that circumstances can be changed.  They will be supported to develop realistic goals and move towards them.  They will be afforded with opportunities for self-discovery and will be widely encouraged to develop self-confidence.  In other words, they will be provided with resiliency building opportunities and processes.

There is an upcoming United Nations Conference, specifically the 51st Session of the Commission of Social Development (Feb 6-15,2013) whose theme is: “Promoting Empowerment of People in Achieving Poverty Eradication, Social Integration, Full Employment & Decent Work for All” with a focus on the following groups: Disabled, Youth, Aging, & Family.   At that particular Commission there will be a number of side-events, one of which will focus on resilience. Worldwide, there are numerous adverse environments that just serve to knock people down.  Oftentimes forgotten, but here in the United States there are numerous adverse environments impacting youth as well.  We have lived through numerous catastrophic events lately such as the Oklahoma bombing, 9/11 and numerous school, movie theater and mall shootings. Ten years after 9/11, we have not forgotten, but we have gotten through. We have built a collective resiliency.

Resilience –I have undergone it. It has allowed me to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. I developed a set of  adaptive skills that helped me not only cope  but also develop an enhanced sense of well- being throughout adverse environments across cultures and contexts.  Resiliency is a wondrous process.  Its just that the circumstances that bring on that process can be so heartbreaking.  Not a pithy statement. Just is.  But we can’t get caught up in that sentiment.

A set of parents of children that had survived were interviewed this morning on the national news.  They noted, while sobbing, that “we will get through but never get over it.”  We will not forget.  How a parent ever gets through the death of a child is beyond me.  I don’t know exactly where the resiliency comes from for a parent that has lost a child. What well does one tap into?  But apparently, it happens.

Let us move forward and learn some key lessons so that a parent doesn’t have to wonder what their child’s last moments were on this earth as  a pool of blood accumulated in the classroom and a cacophony of gunshots overtook their ears.

Let us move forward and learn some key lessons so little six- year old boys and girls don’t have to develop resiliency after a school shooting and overcome extreme fear.  Let them instead be resilient about not getting all the toys they asked Santa for.

Let us move forward and learn some key lessons so little six-year old boys and girls don’t have to die such violent deaths.

Unspeakable. Disturbing.  Heavy heart.  Shocking beyond belief.  Grief-stricken.   Hardiness. Resourcefulness. Mental toughness.


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