Last month’s armed assault on our collective peace has left our heads spinning. Our schools assure us that stronger gates and bigger locks will appease our riddled psyches.
Mark Shields of public television’s Newshour relates that it is easier to buy a gun in this country than it is to rent a car.
His counterpart, David Brooks, suggests that instead of attempting to control access to guns, we might consider regulating the sale of bullets.
Ideas are flying like so many dinghies in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. We are living in a warming climate where flames of fear are faithfully fanned by our less than responsible national media.
We have become a country of the knee-jerk and the unpremeditated quick fix. The tragedy of Newtown, however, is not one to be quickly remedied.
When my mother died a number of months ago from Alzheimer’s disease, I felt as if a part of me died along with her. That’s the way it is with us humans…we are interconnected.
When those precious human beings died last month, we felt it. Even if we did not know them personally, their loss was palpable. When a member of our human society is troubled, fearful, or ill, it is our business to engage him. We must find the courage and compassion within ourselves to ask the question, “How can I help?”
Singer/songwriter John Prine has addressed this very subject in his song, “Hello In There.” He writes, “So if you’re walking down the street sometime and spot some hollow ancient eyes, please don’t pass ‘em by and stare as if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello.”
We Americans are taught at a very early age not to talk to strangers. On the surface, this might seem sage advice for our children, but many of us carry this protective philosophy well into adulthood. We steer clear of those who appear different. We believe that what we don’t know can harm us…the age-old fear of the unknown.
This most basic human fear has been recorded in texts that date back as far as Beowulf, written sometime between the 8th and 11th centuries. We come by it honestly, but perhaps it’s time to hang it up.
We choose to live in gated communities and grow our hedges tall to keep our fears in check. We become prisoners. We tell ourselves that if we build our walls high enough, we can keep the bad guys out. We’ve only to read the words of Shakespeare to understand the futility of such a belief. We can draw a parallel from the following reflections on a woman’s wit from As You Like It, “Make the doors upon a woman’s wit and it will out at the casement. Shut that and ‘twill out at the keyhole. Stop that, ‘twill fly with the smoke out at the chimney.”
There is no wall high enough to keep a determined, misguided, individual from causing harm if he wishes to, as recent history has repeatedly demonstrated.
We must find ways to reach out to and help the disenfranchised within our human family to feel valued so that they might take an active, productive role in society. It is imperative that we learn to unite, regardless of gender, color, creed, or sexual orientation in order to create a sustainable society that values education and nurtures children. Only then can we tear down the walls that separate us and tackle the many challenges that we face as denizens of this fragile planet.
We must not allow ourselves to be a generation defined by its tragedies. We must change our story and have our media support our choice to do so.
I am reminded of a song my brothers and I learned when Mom took us to church as small children: “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.” We are interconnected and responsible for one another, strangers or not. Our society is only as strong as our weakest member, as was so clearly demonstrated by this unspeakable tragedy.
The recent loss of my mother to Alzheimer’s disease has taught me to reach out.
Writing about Mom’s twelve-year journey into the disease has introduced me to the inspiring community of caregivers and advocates who work daily to end Alzheimer’s. I’ve learned, in the process, how we are all so very much the same. We share a unique experience that binds us and makes us stronger.
It is a beautiful new year. Reach out to those around you. Say, “Hello in there, hello.”
Judy Prescott, born in Mountain Lakes, New Jersey, has spent the past twenty-five years working as a professional actress. Based in both New York City and Los Angeles, she has performed many roles on stage and screen. Her most recent work includes episodes of True Blood, Grey’s Anatomy, Cold Case, Bones, and the films Islander and Hit and Runway. Judy started writing poems as a child in order to better understand the world around her. She began reading her poetry publicly fifteen years ago in Los Angeles where she currently lives with her husband and daughter. Judy is the author of Searching for Cecy: Reflections on Alzheimer’s.
This article was originally published at MariaShriver.com and is being republished with permission.