12/17/2012 05:16 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2013

Don't Wait for Washington

"Of all the human heart endures, how small the part laws or kings cause or cure" -- Samuel Johnson

Twenty children in Newtown used to play together, do school work together, listen together, and dream together. Now they don't. Another tragedy confronts our country, and we wonder what we can do and how we can keep this from happening again. What we can do together in our hometowns, as those innocent children might have shown us if they were still laughing with their classmates?

Some of us on the left appeal to our leaders in Washington to pass more restrictions on guns or provide more funds for mental health assistance. Some of us on the right appeal to our leaders about changing the culture in Hollywood or returning prayer to our schools. We all think it is about making "them" in D.C. do something to solve the problem. But for every "them," there exists an "us." We mourn, we move on, and until "they" agree with "us," nothing much gets done.

We all look at the dysfunction in Washington and the polarized debate or the lack of consensus, and we say to ourselves, if we can just make "them" do their job, then everything would be better. But until Washington begins to follow our lead, what is it that we can do in response to this awful massacre? What way can these 20 lights called away too early show us in our communities?

So many of us lead quiet lives in our homes. We isolate ourselves in front of our television sets, communicate online, and send out for takeout food. A study was done a few years back using Carl Jung's archetype model, and the No. 1 way the average Americans described themselves was "orphan." We have lost touch with each other in many ways. and we lack faith in the institutions that used to bind us together, so we retreat to the security and safety of our homes and a tiny group of people.

All of us know good people in our lives and communities with mental illness. All of us know decent people in our towns who own guns. And many times these groups overlap. But do we seek them out to ask what is going on? Do we ask questions when we might need to among our families and friends? Do we see someone in need and do something or do we go back to our TV sets hoping some government program comes to the rescue?

We all know someone who is suffering. Reaching out, touching base, and acknowledging that suffering and empathizing with them can eventually lead to trust, and within trusting relationships transformative and sometimes life-changing things will happen. Such relationships allow us to ask the parent or friend of a struggling young man, difficult and sometimes uncomfortable questions such as, "What worries you most about your son?" "Does he have access to any guns?" "Let's talk about ways to help him and keep him safe."

Do we have all the answers? No, but we wanted to begin the conversation. The two of us are a brother and sister who grew up among 11 siblings in the Detroit area, where we put the fun in dysfunction. One of us had a calling in medicine and became an emergency-room pediatrician in Kansas City who deals with gunshot victims and mental illness among children on a routine basis. The other, who now lives in Austin, Texas, saw his calling as politics and has tried to make a broken political system work, not often successfully, on behalf of real people.

Some of the 11 have struggled with mental illness, some own guns, but we all care about each other and try to check in with each other whenever we can. We aren't perfect, and we have lost one of the 11 to the tragedy of drug overdose. We just wake up each day knowing we aren't islands and knowing there is more to life than iPhone games and the next episode of Homeland.

We have a neighbor, Liz, who we jokingly refer to as "Mrs. Kravitz" -- as some of you will recall, she was the nosy woman in Bewitched who was always peering at Darrin and Samantha from behind her curtains. Liz is always checking in, yelling over the fence -- to say hi, share a silly story or a random thought. It can be downright irritating at times, and she does it with the whole neighborhood. But she, like her husband, are clergy called to serve in an urban ministry. And we know that the reason she does this is because she cares in a deep and profound way. She firmly believes that although we as humans are individuals, we are also called to live in community. And she is doing her part to nurture the most peaceful and loving community she can.

We can't wait till "they" tell "us" what the answers are or wait for "them" to lead "us" from Washington. It is really up to us to lead on these issues in the intimate circles of our life's. It begins with us, and maybe we can all start being more of a Mrs. Kravitz. You might be amazed at the magic you can see and start.

Co-written with M. Denise Dowd

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