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I know many of you, like me, have felt hopeless in the face of such tragedy. Wondering what you can possibly do to ease the pain and suffering of the families in Newtown. The answer, sadly, is little. There are no words strong enough to bring their children back, no teddy bear that could replace the joy of a brother or sister, no flowers that can bring beauty back to these dark days.

But there are things we can do. Even if we can’t take away what happened last Friday, we can work this day and every day, to ensure nothing like this happens again. I know that sounds like talk, just happy hopeful words that pundits and politicians like to use when we don’t know what else to do. But I really believe that kindness matters. And that kindness can make the world a better place.

I’m not going to get into gun control, which I happen to believe is (and always has been) an absolute necessity, nor will I specifically address access to mental health care, although I think it’s pretty obvious our society has failed on that front. But I will share Ann Curry’s plea that we all engage in 26 Acts of Kindness. I’m calling for 27 acts, because as much as we want someone to blame and as irresponsible as her gun ownership may have been, Nancy Lanza was nonetheless a victim. And besides, one additional act of kindness can only help.

Here’s a link to some of the things people have been doing, some specifically related to Newtwon, such as calling the local coffee shop and paying for 100 cups of coffee with your credit card. But many of them are more local, donations made to local organizations, paying the toll for 26 cars behind you on the highway. They speak to the inherent kindness in people and they give us hope and provide light in the darkness.

This afternoon, my boys and I are buying 27 canned goods to donate to the local food shelter. We’re sending some extra money to the Hurricane Sandy relief funds. We’re gonna squeeze some extra time out of our very packed weekend to make and deliver breakfast to the pediatric oncology floor at the hospital, for those families who stuck there instead of home for the holidays. We already have and will continue to provide Christmas presents for a family we know who have struggled mightily over the past year. And we will make and mail 27 snowflakes, inscribed with wishes, to the Connecticut PTSA who is collecting snowflakes for Sandy Hook, in an effort mighty similar to Austin’s wishing stars.

It doesn’t take away the hurt, it doesn’t bring children back to life. But, in our own small way, as we begin the shortest day of the year, it lights the darkness. We can each light the darkness.

Of course, our excursion on Wednesday would not have been complete without some media attention. Here’s a link to video coverage on the Lima news.

Interestingly, when I said I’d never heard of Bluffton before, I was wrong. I have and I think many of you have as well.  Five years ago, on March 2, 2007, the Bluffton University baseball team was on its way to Florida for the opening game of their season, driving through Atlanta, when their bus went over an embankment killing the driver, his wife and five players.  So, there they were on Wednesday, a team of young men on the eve of their five-year remembrance ceremony, doing something for someone else. Looking outward instead of inward. Focusing not on the legacy of their own tragedy but on preventing future tragedies of a completely different nature. Like I said in that video above, those boys carry a lot of weight. Their statement is loud and it is clear and it is powerful.

Speaking of school tragedies, there is not much to say about the shooting at Chardon High School that hasn’t already been said, time and time again over the past few days.  But here is something so amazingly simple that we can all do for the students there. One of Cleveland’s radio stations, Kiss FM, has a Rock Your Prom contest — one of those click-here-and-vote-for-your-school kind of things — where the winning school will receive $5000 towards their prom, along with a DJ, “club style event,” and lights/video/digital effects etc.  Chardon High is one of the many schools listed and there’s a Facebook campaign encouraging everyone to vote for them. It’s totally simple, you don’t have to log in or anything, just follow this link and click Chardon, every single day until they have a resounding victory. No matter where you live or where you went to school, no matter if you’d never heard of Chardon, Ohio before turning on the evening news on Monday … here is something we can give them, a small comfort in this time of tragedy, a little token of our sympathy. They’re still just kids after all and they deserve something special to look forward to.

On this day, I know every one of us thinks back to where we were on that morning eight years ago; what we were doing, how we learned the news, who we called first. Everyone has their 9/11 story, just like everyone of older generations has their Pearl Harbor story or their JFK assassination story. But I always think, as we mark this day anew with each passing year, about the other meanings of this date. Lots and lots of things have happened on September 11’s, good things and bad things, big things and little things. People have gotten married, people –several that I know — celebrate their birthdays, people have died in ways completely unrelated to terrorist attacks. 

We have our own September 11 story, one very different from the national story. It starts on Tuesday, September 4, 2007, the day I called the oncology department to tell them that I thought that maybe, just maybe, could it possible that Austin’s tumor was growing. We had just been in the out-patient clinic the Friday before, his doctors had all looked at his belly during a super long day of chemo. But over the weekend, it seemed to be magically growing, something I didn’t really believe was possible (he had four weeks worth of chemo pumping through his small body after all), something I didn’t want to believe could be possible. But by that Tuesday, it was hard to deny any longer, so I called and brought him in and they all looked and asked questions and quietly consulted with each other in the hallway before admitting us to the in-patient floor.

The next morning, Austin had another CT scan and then there was that moment. A moment I’ve described in many previous writings because, well, because it was a pretty significant moment. In they marched, six of them —  oncologists, surgeons, nurses — to break the news that Austin’s tumor was indeed growing; in fact, it had grown by a whooping 50% and was now the outrageous and hard to fathom size of a butternut squash.

That was September 5. Not a very good day. Then Friday September 7, the tumor and the right kidney were removed. That was a good day, a day we breathed deeply and allowed ourselves to rest for a brief moment. But the news we needed, the pathology results that would explain why the tumor had grown so terrifyingly quickly, and that would determine the rest of Austin’s cancer treatment and that might determine the rest of our lives, wouldn’t come back until the following Tuesday.

I do not have the writing skills to begin to describe how excruciatingly slowly each second ticks by when you are waiting to hear whether your child will live or die. Those six days, between when we learned of the growth on September 5 and when the results were finally returned to us on September 11, were definitely the longest and most stressful days of our lives.  We just needed to know. Good or bad — and we fully expected bad because that was the more reasonable thing to expect at that point — we just had to know. Waiting was almost unbearable.

And then Tuesday, September 11 was upon us. This was the day and it happened to be one with a date synonymous with tragedy. I actually considered calling our oncologist and telling him to wait, wait until Wednesday, a day with an ordinary date, to share this news with us. But I knew that was silly; the facts would be the same no matter what the calendar said. And we just couldn’t wait any longer.

And then Dr. Jeff appeared, bouncing like a child, excitement, relief, joy spilling over his professional doctor persona. Austin would be fine. Austin, as you know today, two September 11’s later, is fine. But it changed the day for us. Changed the meaning of an already significant date.

Alongside our sorrow for all that was lost on this day eight years ago, we celebrate all that was saved on this day two years ago.  Alongside public commemorations, we have private ones. Alongside paying our respects, we pay our gratitude. In our house, this day is a good day. A very good day.

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