April 17, 2013

The Helpers

from NPR.org
This Saturday is my birthday. And as during many of those 29 birthdays, everything will be a little more somber. Life will be a little more quiet. A little more subdued.


Waco, April 19, 1993
Oklahoma City, April 19, 1995
Columbine High School, April 20, 1999
John McDonough High School, April 14, 2003
Virginia Tech, April 16, 2007
Rio De Janeiro, April 7, 2011
Oikos University, April 2, 2012
Boston Marathon, April 15, 2013

So here's what I want to know...

What is it? What is it about April? I don't know if anybody else has noticed this trend, but there's something about the beginning of spring that seems to make people just... snap. A full third of the unabomber's attacks... he must have constructed them in April, even if they didn't reach their victims until the first week of May.

This is what I think.

I think that violence comes from a place of deep sadness. That throughout the long, cold months of winter, through the gloom and the chill, the sadness congeals into anger and hate. And in those cold months, plans are born. Plans to punish, to hurt, to seek revenge for the anguish in one's own soul.

I think that through the darkest months, a person can cultivate this anger and hatred and fear, until they seem ready to burst. Plans are made. Manifestos written.

And then the sun breaks through the clouds. Spring comes, but not quite. It rains. It snows some more. But suddenly, the air seems almost filled with new life.

And the streets fill up with happy people, people ready to rejoin the world after a winter's passing. And for somebody harboring so much pain, the joy in others is fuel to the fire.

I think that the beginning of spring is an ultimatum. That in their feverish, desperate minds, these individuals feel that if they don't act now, their window is lost.

That window that seems to fall in the early weeks of true spring.

And so March is spent stockpiling weapons, surreptitiously buying supplies, writing and re-writing and re-writing manifestos. And when the world is most filled with the joy of spring. the time must come to act or lose the nerve.


I can't imagine the pain and heartbreak that friends and families of victims in Boston are experiencing now. Stories of brothers losing limbs protecting each other, of children maimed and murdered... it's too horrible to comprehend.

And as a parent, I feel anguish and heartbreak for those children- small and grown- who lie in hospital beds, filled with bits of metal. And my soul is crying out for the parents who are living in bedside chairs, participating in never-ending phone trees, crying and praying.

And as a parent, I feel a deep confusion for the attacker. For whatever person did this. And I feel anger towards his parents, who failed to teach a respect for basic humanity. And I simultaneously grieve for them, because despite my knee-jerk reaction, who's to say it's their fault? Who's to say they aren't more upset, more devastated, that somebody they love so deeply could be capable of so much violence?


As on so many birthdays, this year I am thinking back to the strangers and friends alike who I have seen suffer in the cold winter months. Who I did not reach out to. Who I didn't offer kind words.

And I wonder- could that have made the difference? Could simply reaching out and telling them, "It doesn't have to be like this. You can fill your heart with peace instead of hate," it might make a difference.

It's not just these massive public attacks, it's deeper. The suicide rate climbs dramatically in April. The likelihood of depressed persons inflicting self harm increases.

So what do we do to combat this? What do we do to stop people from feeding their fears and their anguish during the winter, to keep them from coming to this point at the start of spring?

I don't know. But I think that kindness it a part of the answer. That opening our hearts and letting everyone know, everywhere, that the winter is not eternal. Not the winter outside, and not the winter in their own minds.

I wish I could have reached out to somebody. To let them know there is good in humanity, that they could be an agent of that good, rather than wrap themselves in their fear and anger.

Because fear and anger and hate... they're a comfortable shroud. They're an addiction. Acknowledging them is painful, removing them traumatic. It is so much easier to say to yourself that you are right and the world is wrong than to admit that you might be trapped in your own delusions, that you might have built an entire worldview based on a lie.

But one person can make a difference.

Mr. Rogers said, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers- so many caring people in this world." But we shouldn't wait until after the disaster to be those helpers. We need to be them now, to the people who would cause harm. We need to show them that we are always there, waiting for our time to be of service.

Next winter, I will try more. I will offer a smile, I will offer a hand, I will do what I can to show love and warmth. I will strive not to hide inside of myself in the winter, but to reach out to others. To strangers or friends, to whomever might be cultivating inside themselves the fear and anger needed to lash out like this.

Next winter, we should all spread the warmth in our hearts a little further. And perhaps the spring may be a little brighter for it.


  1. I think you are so right. In so many parts of the country winter is such a dark time. And not only is it a dark time, but it is also a time when we naturally interact and socialize less with each other. I noticed it tonight on one of the nicest spring nights so far as I went to my children's practices and stopped to chit chat and talk I noticed that I connected with more people than I had in a long time. I don't know the solution, but I can certainly resolve to be a little more kind, a little more attentive next winter.

  2. I think you've got as good a theory and insight as any.

  3. I never thought about it like this, though I was thinking about Columbine earlier today, knowing the anniversary is coming up.

    Maybe those small acts of kindness can make the difference. It won't hurt to try.

  4. Hi there!

    Happy Birthday!!! I found you on MBC! New follower on twitter, FB, and GFC. Stop by my blog hop and meet some wonderful bloggers. Here is the url:


    Hope to see you there!

    The Wondering Brain

  5. I have not thought about the trends of violence and it length to winter. It is really sad that some many people find themselves in such display that they want to injury or murder others. My heart also goes out to the victims in Bostion. While all of this is terrible, life should be celebrate. You are obviously a kind and understanding person so I haope that you are still celebrating your 29 years!

  6. I'm surprised and bothered by your statement that the parents "failed to teach a respect for basic humanity." Mental illness, as you know from close observation, is beyond parental control. And have you forgotten that you know the uncle of one of the Columbine shooters? I can assure you that his family certainly taught such respect. Dylan was simply quiet and sullen, with no indication of violent tendencies. The family was stunned and devastated when the attacks took place.

    1. "And I simultaneously grieve for them." I'm expressing the multitude of emotions, the knee-jerk reaction to blame, and the need to sympathize. I understand both. I DO NOT blame their parents, but I can't help having that initial reaction. But part of being a reasonable person is setting aside those visceral reactions and actually using your head. You're right- I know you're right. And I knew it when I wrote it, too. I'm sorry if I didn't make that clear.



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