Sawatzke: Connecticut tragedy forces change

Friday morning I was sitting on my work computer, catching up on the day’s news (and tweets and Facebook statuses) before getting a start on my workday. The first sign of something terrible appeared when I caught a tweet about breaking news of a shooting at an elementary school. At the time, details on CNN’s web page were few and far between.

First notes stated that one teacher had been shot in the leg or the foot, and at least three people had been transported to a hospital. As I kept refreshing, updates slowly started to come in, but numbers did not.

Then suddenly, that changed. Everything changed.

The numbers 27 and 18 flashed on my screen. Twenty-seven killed, 18 of them children.
Eventually the number would be changed to 20 children. At that moment and for the rest of the day, I, like so many Americans, vacillated between feelings of numbness and despair. There were so many painful questions to be asked. Chief among them: How could anyone ever do this? Why would anyone ever do this?

People are working to find those answers. People who are qualified to do just that sort of thing. And while many of us feel helpless to answer those types of questions, there is one more gigantic question facing us all, that each of us can do a little something to address.

What do we do now?

Clearly, all is no longer right in the world. Not when 27 families in Newtown will be going through this holiday season with one less radiant smile lighting up their family get-togethers.

Not when children and adults were on edge about going back to school, a place that is supposed to be the safest of all places in a country that is supposed to be the best in the world.

Many things need to change. You and I can’t do everything – that I know. But we can be the seeds of change. We can be at the ground level. We can do little things daily. We can make a difference. And if enough of us believe, eventually we can make big changes.

Sure, you and I don’t have the power to sign a bill banning assault rifles, or making sure that 100 percent of gun sales happen after a strict background check coupled with gun safety classes.

But we do have the power to write to our representatives and our senators. We have the ability to start discussions, to find out the positives of the legality of certain guns and rifles and how those compare to the overwhelming negatives that we’ve all been witness to in recent weeks (and years).

It is an important debate, and I believe some adjustment in gun control is an important step in getting our country back on the right track.

But it’s not the only step, and to me it isn’t even the most urgent step. First and foremost, we need to change our attitude and our culture. We need to slow down and take time. We need to notice people, we need to pay attention and we need to care. Yes, the power of guns is horrifying and overwhelming. But the power vested in each and every one of us can be just as overwhelming, and we have all the control in the world over how we use it. We each have the power to change lives on a daily basis. It doesn’t take thousands of signatures, a two-thirds majority or a presidential veto for you and me to go out of our way to make someone’s day.

In fact, we each have a scary amount of control over each other’s lives. Think about it this way. If you went through an entire day without a single positive interaction, instead running into grumpy person after grumpy person, how would you feel at the end of the day?

Now if you go through a day where each interaction is met with a smile, a conversation, and something as simple as “have a wonderful day,” how do you envision yourself feeling at the end of that day?

A pretty drastic difference isn’t it?

Think about how many encounters you have during the day that you don’t pay attention to. The person you walk by in the parking lot. The cashier who rings you up at the grocery store. The customer who calls your number but wants to speak to someone else.
All of those conversations are in passing. They’re fleeting and they’re easy to ignore.
But they’re meaningful. Think of how much a simple smile from a stranger can warm your heart. Then think about how easy it is for you to be that stranger, making people smile, numerous times per day. We all have the power to positively impact so many lives each day, and we have no idea who might need it.

And please, don’t feel restricted to a smile.

Hold the door open for someone who is a couple of steps farther away from the door than would usually mandate holding said door. Buy a coffee for the person behind you at Caribou. Will it break your bank? No, nor will it help them buy a house. But it will make their day, and that’s pretty priceless.

Lastly, as much time and influence as you can have on strangers, you have an immeasurable amount more on your loved ones and those you see the most. I ask, and I plead, strive each day to make the ones around you happier —people.

It will, without a doubt, make you a happier person, and it is the most basic step to restoring our country to a place where the cliché “everything is now right in the world” doesn’t feel so horribly wrong.

Smile at a stranger. Shower those close to you with love. Share this message.
You and I can’t do everything. But we can do more than we have.

Let us start today.