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COMMENTARY BY RAMON PRESSON: A therapist and a dad think about Sandy Hook

This fall I’ve been writing humorous poems and notes to put in my son Cameron’s lunch box – Dr. Seuss-style pieces loosely connected to some food theme. Following the horrific shooting in Newton, Conn. this past Friday I wasn’t in the mood on Sunday to write comedy for Monday’s note.

Any great travesty or tragedy sends us scurrying for answers and understanding, but then there are explosive moments like Friday that find us diving for cover as all social and moral sensibilities seem to be under fire. We seek shelter in a world where no place seems a sacred sanctuary, where no location can guarantee our safety – not when 5 and 6 year olds in a classroom are considered reasonable targets.

With a heavy heart I wrote Monday’s lunch box note:


While it is still dark

I take out the lunch makings for assembly –

things to slice, spread, and pack;

some things crunchy, some soft,

a mixture of items salty, plain, and sweet;


And I think of mothers and fathers

in a Connecticut town

who either cannot sleep

or who wish to do nothing else

but hide in a deep cave of sleep

where no nightmare can compare with waking,


Parents who are making funeral arrangements

instead of repeatable lunches,

picking out small coffins

instead of pudding cups,

feeling a knife slice through the heart like soft bread,

the flat blade spreading unspeakable horror

and unthinkable grief to the four corners of a soul.


I think of 20 lovely children,

innocents trapped in a gallery of evil,

their blue vinyl lunch bags nestled in cubbies,

their names written underneath the lids

with permanent marker because

so much can be lost in the chaos of a day.


Cameron was actually one of the last to read his note because via numerous and widespread Facebook shares, the above piece made its way around the country in the morning hours before Cameron’s lunch box was even opened. There were requests to see it published to facilitate sharing it so I’m glad to honor that request.

Driving around the county I pass flags at half-staff, visual reminders that we are a nation still in shock and in mourning. We agonize and ache for the victims and their families, unable to fathom our own ability to cope and survive if our places were switched, wondering if we could even breathe.

And we struggle to know how to help. When a community suffers a natural disaster we can give money and send supplies for rebuilding. But what money do you give when all buildings in a community are completely intact but the persons inside them have collapsed? What supplies do you send when a house was unmoved by a storm and yet the inhabitants lie crushed in the emotional rubble?

In lifting up prayers for the citizens of Newtown not only are we seeking divine help, but perhaps we’re striving to send something of our very selves. We are desperately trying to say to the grieving you are not alone. We instinctively know from our own grief history that answers do not heal and fail to address the deeper mysteries. We know from experience that no financial resources or material donations can reverse emotional bankruptcy. So we send prayers and tears, hoping that some divine alchemy will transform them into a form of comfort and strength, an anonymous gift from an invisible friend.

And tomorrow when we smile again and laugh at jokes, it will not be because we have forgotten their anguish but because we must occasionally rest from the work of grief. Years ago Lewis Smedes wrote “only the heart that hurts has the right to true joy.”  If that is true then we have earned the right to smile, having purchased the privilege with our tears.


Author and therapist, Ramon Presson, PhD is the founder of LifeChange Counseling and the Marriage Center of Franklin, TN.



Posted on: 12/18/2012


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