With the one-year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, coming up tomorrow, Saturday, December 14, it’s important to turn our hearts and thoughts in directions that will continue the healing process.
In Watching what we’re watching for health’s sake, we are reminded that research shows a link between watching news of traumatic events and stress symptoms. It’s helpful to limit our intake of traumatic images and keep the main focus on good things. For example, Fred Rogers, beloved host of the children’s TV series “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood”, shared his mother’s advice to “Look for the helpers.”¹ St. Paul said, “Whatsoever things are … of good report; … think on these things.“²
The people of Newtown appear to understand this. According to a story by Boston’s NPR news station WBUR, “residents of Newtown, Conn., have decided against a public commemoration to mark the first anniversary this coming Saturday of the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School… Instead, the town is endorsing a ‘year of service’ and is asking residents to put a candle in their window on Dec. 14, the day of the shooting, to show their commitment to the idea of service to each other.” John Woodall, psychiatrist and Newtown resident, explained, “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.”
And it turns out that service is also good for health. Studies have shown an association between volunteering and health benefits – both physical and mental. These benefits include lower rates of depression and fewer incidences of heart disease, as well as greater longevity. For example, researchers at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan found that volunteers experienced a significantly lower mortality rate if their service was done unselfishly.
So, it seems we need to both “look for the helpers”, and be the helpers!
As hearts continue to mend, it’s fitting that an online memorial site created by the victims’ families uses a heart for a symbol in its design. The motto at the bottom says, “Sandy Hook School – Always in our hearts”.
St. Paul once expressed this prayerful petition for a group he was ministering to:
“That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love…”²
And a more recent religious and spiritual thinker, Mary Baker Eddy, once shared this heart-felt sentiment:
“May the great Shepherd that ‘tempers the wind to the shorn lamb,’ and binds up the wounds of bleeding hearts, just comfort, encourage, and bless all who mourn.”³
As we remember – perhaps with a candle in the window, a commitment to unselfish service, and a loving prayer from the heart – may all find comfort and peace!