Yet again, someone fell through the cracks. Warning signs were noticed but underestimated -- if not entirely missed -- and now, here we are, yet again...
I am filled with sorrow as I think about what is happening tonight in the Santa Barbara homes of the victims of this most recent nightmare. The devastation is too big, too big to make sense of, and still it happens. Kids who feel invisible or insignificant lose their way, convincing themselves to make a violent statement, pre-empting the possibility of healing and eventually living a life free of torment and anguish.
I will leave the gun law debate for others. There will be many who speak about how little has been done since Newtown, or for that matter, Columbine, to prevent these tragedies.
For now, I simply want to talk about the power of one person to impact the lives of countless others.
A few years ago, I ran into an acquaintance several months after her husband passed away. "How are you doing?", I asked. "Not very well," she told me. We spoke for a few minutes but I was in a hurry, and eventually had to leave for an appointment. "Can I call you in a couple of days so we can talk more?" "Sure," she said. Somehow, I managed to write this promise down in my calendar, and two days later, gave her a call.
We spoke for a long time. She confessed that she had been having a very hard time; I stayed on the phone listening and offering whatever words of kindness I could until a friend showed up at her house and we ended our conversation.
The next day, she sent me an email. "I'm writing you from the psychiatric ward of the hospital. I wanted to tell you that you saved my life." She went on to tell me that just minutes before I called her, she had been preparing to leave the house, get in her car and drive off of a cliff. "You saved me," she said. I was stunned. I had no idea that she was in such a dark place, and thanked my lucky stars that I had remembered to call her back; so many times, I might have made the promise and forgotten, absorbed with the events of my own life.
Remember the phrase, If you see something, say something? That campaign -- spawned by a man alerting authorities to the presence of a suspicious-looking car in Times Square -- made an impact by reminding each person how much power they had to contribute to the safety of the common good.
Let's use that phrase now to heighten our awareness of the young people in our midst who may be in trouble.
If you see something, say something. Most kids who are emotionally unsteady send up smoke signals, but we are often so busy with our own lives that we look away. Pay attention. Do something.
Call to mind the young people in your life. Ask yourself if anyone triggers a feeling of discomfort or concern. Let your instincts weigh in, even if your rational mind says, Oh that kid's just a little quirky. There's nothing wrong with kids who march to their own drum. But trust your instincts. If something feels off, don't assume someone else is noticing. Do something.
If you suspect that a youngster in your world is in trouble, reach out. "How are things going, Thomas? Is everything OK? What are you up to these days?" While a brief encounter may not make a difference, there are times when one kind word can make a radical difference for someone in pain, changing the trajectory of their day and their life. Better yet, make a point of leaving a trail of kind words. You never know whose life you may lift up simply by showing that you care, and that they matter to at least one person.
We talk about how it takes a village to raise a child, but we have to live that truth for it to be meaningful.
There are thousands of wonderful kids who have lost their way -- hurting and lonely and confused. If each one of us takes responsibility for keeping our eyes open more widely, making a point to reach out or alert parents or school counselors if our instincts tell us something's wrong, we may be able to save more of these precious lives.
Please. If you see something, say something.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected. She is a family therapist, parent coach, and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
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