Four days have passed since the horror in Newtown, CT, and my emotions feel as raw as they did the moment I learned of the tragedy. Twenty-six innocent people gunned down – 20 of them little children with their whole lives ahead of them. Try as I might to wrap my mind around it, the finality of it, I simply can’t. And so, to paraphrase President Obama, I write this not as a Ph.D. psychologist nor as meQuilibrium’s Chief Science Officer, but as a parent.
You see, I’m the father of a beautiful, 6-year-old girl. And as I see the photos of the victims, like Charlotte Bacon or Olivia Engel, I see my little girl, Vivien, in the curves of their faces and their cascading locks. Like Olivia, my Vivien’s favorite colors are pink and purple. Like Charlotte, my little girl likes school and dresses too.
I’m known as a leading expert on resilience – the resilience guy. So friends, neighbors, colleagues, and reporters have asked me how we cope at a time like this. My short answer is, we don’t. Not really. Not at first. First we grieve and at once we feel anger at the gunmen, empathy for the unbearable pain the parents of the victims must feel, relief that it wasn’t our child, and guilt for feeling relieved. Then, perhaps, we begin to take small steps to recovery.
The first step my wife and I took was to sit down with Vivien on Monday morning before we took her to school and tell her about the events that we’d shielded her from until then. She had questions – ‘why did the man do this?’, ‘what happened to the children and to him?’ – and we answered them as honestly as we could.
Each of us holds basic beliefs that we and our loved ones are safe. It’s these unconscious beliefs that enable us to put our kids on the school bus or drop them off at school every morning without spiraling into existential angst. At times like these, as with the events of 9-11, these basic beliefs are shattered. It takes time for them to be rebuilt. But we can help the process along.
We assured our Vivien that she was safe at school – and then took steps to ensure that was true. We sat down with her school’s director and asked how we could be of assistance. We helped the director craft an email to go out to all parents, I offered my services as a counselor and, at her suggestion, we joined a committee to assess the school’s security system.
Then my wife and I took another lead from the President. We sent our thoughts and prayers to the grieving and we hugged our children especially tight.