Many of the survivors of those killed in the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., have respectfully asked the media to stay away on the one-year anniversary this week. Similarly, many of them recently had urged a court not to release audio tapes of the 911 calls from that day — a request denied for the understandable reason that free societies need a measure of openness in order for governments to be held accountable.
But these parents are onto something — a true principle that is little understood in an age when acts of evil drive Internet hits, garner ratings and feed insatiable news cycles. To heal, people must focus on the positive, while to focus on the negative, the bitter and the painful quickly consumes them in misery.
That is a thought expressed eloquently in today’s Deseret News by Alissa Parker, who lost her 6-year-old daughter Emilie at Sandy Hook, and who had moved there from Ogden with her husband and family shortly before the tragedy.
Avoiding news or conversations that upset her has become “a powerful tool in my grieving,” she told reporter Lois Collins.
That doesn’t mean Alissa and her husband, Robbie, have remained silent. They have used the power such tragedies give the voices of survivors to speak out in positive ways. And one of those ways involves forgiveness, another indispensible tool for healing.
It was this remarkable tool that Nelson Mandela used to heal a nation torn by the bitterness and violence of apartheid. It was this tool, exercised by grieving Amish parents seven years ago, that led the mother of the gunman who killed little Amish girls to embrace the suffering community and experience her own profound sense of healing. It is a power manifest every time someone chooses to use it, no matter the severity of the offense.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” When people decide to let go of hate and anger and to forgive, miracles follow that are much more powerful than anything evil can do.
As Alissa noted, this is not an easy process, nor is it a one-time event. “I have to choose to forgive him again and to grieve and then I have to choose to let it go,” she said of the shooter and the feelings she encounters from time to time.
But cultivating a forgiving heart and focusing on the positive has led her and her husband to form the Emilie Parker Art Connection to provide arts-related scholarships; to sponsor a performance of The Nutcracker, one of Emilie’s favorite ballets, so that children could see it; and to become cofounders of Safe and Sound Schools, which is working to keep schools safer from unwanted intruders.
Alissa Parker told the Deseret News that evil often is more readily visible than goodness in today’s world. It’s important to pay attention in order to find the goodness. That is an unfortunate consequence of a world in which myriad voices compete for attention across a wide array of electronic devices.
But thanks to the Parkers and other survivors of Sandy Hook, goodness has become a little easier to see.