Hearts and Ashes…

It was Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday on the same date this year – February 14. As the day began, I saw students walking in with colorful cards and gift bags, and French Club members delivering roses sent from students to other students and teachers. The red and pink colors changed to purple vestments as Ash Wednesday Mass was celebrated at 9:30 AM. Our foreheads were signed with ashes, and a meatless lunch was served, while we saved our chocolate hearts and candies for another day.

On the way home, I stopped at the grocery store to buy flowers for my wife. I was not surprised to see the prices for roses increased substantially – about double the usual price. As I was struggling to pick up a $36 bouquet of roses, I thought about what my mother used to say about gifts she thought were unnecessary: “Can you eat it?” So, I proceeded to the fresh vegetable section and picked up some asparagus and cauliflower, landed at the meat counter and secured a fresh eye roast, and darted back to the fruit section for some blueberries. On the way to the register I picked up a $4.99 bouquet of miniature pink carnations. Total bill: $27, and I had flowers and the makings of a “gourmet dinner” that I planned to prepare for my wife over the weekend. On the one hand, I felt good about my decisions, but then for a moment I thought my wife would think otherwise. But knowing her now for nearly 35 years, I knew she would appreciate the sentiment. And she did.

Being a parish organist, I was to play for the 7 PM Mass, and on the way to church, we discussed the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High Schooin Parkland, Florida, and lamented about why these terrible things happen to innocent people. I thought, as I was about to attend a second Ash Wednesday Mass, having observed the fast and abstinence of the day, “Why am I doing this? How does keeping this ritual make a difference or change things?”

After Mass, we met with a number of friends of ours in the parish, many of whom have lost family members and have experienced life’s struggles. In a unique way, our coming together that evening to pray and to share gave us comfort and the energy to move forward. The following morning, as I watched the news reports and listened to interviews of students and others impacted by the Florida school shooting, a consistent theme was one of a community coming together to support its members and working through the spectrum of emotions in order to move forward.

As we settled down at home after Mass to our Ash Wednesday meal of broiled fish, I realized that the rituals of my faith that I share with others have created a community of support that is with me every day, and when it is my turn to lean on the shoulders of others, they will be there, as I would be for them. I am grateful for our Archmere community, which in families’ darkest times, has been a light – an important support. As a school community that is trying to understand the tragedy of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School community, we want you to know that we are here for you, to reconfirm our commitment to a safe and secure environment, and to offer help to foster conversations that help us to process all that has happened and how we might be feeling.

The American School Counselor Association offers a few points that may be helpful in working with young people in the aftermath of a tragic event:

  • Try and keep routines as normal as possible. Kids gain security from the predictability of routine, including attending school
  • Limit exposure to television and the news
  • Be honest with kids and share with them as much information as they are developmentally able to handle
  • Listen to kids’ fears and concerns
  • Reassure kids that the world is a good place to be, but that there are people who do bad things
  • Parents and adults need to first deal with and assess their own responses to crisis and stress
  • Rebuild and reaffirm attachments and relationships

May this Lent, which means “Spring,” be a time when we recognize in ourselves our ability to make a difference in the lives of others through the simple things that we do and the rituals that we keep each day.