Last month’s horrific tragedy in Newtown, Conn., left many of us with a deep sense of sadness about the loss of innocence and a fear that it could happen again, anywhere.
Ultimately, such tragedies make us feel helpless. We want to help but don’t know how; nothing can ease the pain the victims’ families are enduring.
Of course, it’s vital to find ways to prevent future tragedies; debates about gun control and care for the mentally ill will rage on for months ahead. But at the same time, it’s important to remember and honor the 20 children and six educators lost at Sandy Hook.
After the tragedy, many news programs — such as CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” — purposefully focused on the victims and their stories, barely uttering the name of the murderer, in an effort to avoid giving him attention or any perceived glorification. Nothing good comes from sensationalizing the crime or the criminal.
In the face of unimaginable horror, we often see heartwarming glimpses of true humanity. Newtown has inspired many people to help in any way possible — within days, many stories of generosity emerged. There were donations of toys, services and money. One woman from Alaska called a deli in Newtown and gave the owner her credit card number; she donated $500 to pay for orders as long as the money lasted.
When Ann Curry of NBC News wrote a blog encouraging folks to honor the victims by helping others in their own communities, the idea — remarkably — went viral. Soon named 26 Random Acts of Kindness, the idea was to find 26 small, random ways to help others, one in honor of each victim.
Many folks immediately committed to completing the 26 Random Acts of Kindness; Twitter and Facebook newsfeeds were filled with ideas and even with stories of folks who’d been on the receiving end of such kindness. Many people expressed relief at having a concrete way to feel helpful.
Some acts were large, some small, but all significant. In some cases, people left notes indicating their intention to honor specific victims from Newtown.
Some of the simplest ideas I’ve heard include paying for the order behind yours in a drive-through line, leaving quarters in a vending machine or at a car wash, bringing cookies to a local fire station or leaving a 100 percent tip for a server in a restaurant. After grocery shopping, why not help an elderly person or a mom with small children to load bags into her car or simply return her cart to the store? How about sending a handwritten thank you note to a former teacher, coach or mentor?
You could donate toys or stuffed animals to the local children’s hospital or deliver doughnuts and coffee to the nurses’ station in any department. You could read a few books to kids at a bookstore or give old towels and blankets to the animal shelter. It wouldn’t take much effort to pump gas for a stranger so she doesn’t have to get outside in the cold or to bring in a neighbor’s garbage can after trash pickup, but both would be much appreciated. Local nursing home residents would enjoy visitors or something as simple as donated magazines or DVDs. If you have frequent flier miles, you can donate them to a volunteer helping with disaster relief or to a military family.
Of course, many ways to bless others can involve money. If it’s in your budget, you could pay for a stranger’s groceries, leave a gift card with a note tucked into a shelf in a store, donate to a charity in the name of a Newtown victim, send flowers to someone who is homebound or provide a meal for a needy family or neighbor going through a difficult time. Recently, a customer anonymously bought a cookie for each child visiting a local Chick-fil-A — a simple way to delight youngsters.
The ideas are endless and, with a little creativity, don’t have to cost much money or involve a great deal of time. Giving inspires others to give, too — it’s contagious and often paid forward. Each act of kindness will brighten someone’s day — and will likely improve your own mood, too.
So for Charlotte, Daniel, Rachel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Dawn, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Anne Marie, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, Lauren, Mary, Victoria, Benjamin and Allison — what can you do today to honor one of these precious lives lost?
Rebecca Horvath of Johnson City is a wife, mother and community volunteer.