After Sandy Hook, Bringing Heaven Down to Earth

First, it was guns. Then, it was mental health. Then, we realized that mental health isn't so simple -- people are not categories.

Perhaps I should say: First, it was the victims. Then, it was the discussion on how to prevent such tragedy. It's also the killer and his mother...

There is so much. It's too much. It's not a conversation that we should be having in a free and beautiful country.

Running the Chabad House at Queens College for the past eight years has afforded me the opportunity of hosting hundreds upon hundreds of guests for Shabbat. This list includes vibrant young students, graduates, scholars, performers, converts, skin of many shades and ... yes, people with mental handicaps.

My degree in psychology gave me no real world knowledge of how to treat people who don't act as one would expect. It's taken time. I remember one Shabbos morning while changing the diaper of my 2-year-old, a young man, whom I knew well, came into my house without knocking. As soon as he saw my naked child he retreated awkwardly. I invited him back into the living room and he said, "Your child is naked and it's makes me very uncomfortable to be around naked people."

I was blown away; offended, annoyed and frustrated. No knock and accusations of letting my children run naked! How rude.

I've changed. I now smile. I know that he and others like him who come to our home have challenges that I will never understand. I can tell you that, like anyone else, the young people who I have met with such challenges want to be liked. They want friends, they want to be heard. People need more than a sympathetic smile, they need friendship and relationship.

Every so often I catch a glimpse of divinity in the face of a "typical" student offering their time and friendship to someone who has a hard time navigating a crowd. It's not only heartwarming, but it's real and such baseless friendship and caring is exactly what the world needs.

Children understand themselves and the world very clearly. They know their needs -- and if all is well -- they express them very clearly. Requests for water after bedtime, toys, candy, etc. They know their needs.

My children sometimes call me back into their rooms after bedtime. The other night my 4-year-old said in the pleading tone that only a 4-year-old could use, "But I didn't give YOU a kiss."

I went back into his room and he grabbed my face, kissed me and he said, "I love you, you're a cute mommy."

I take a lesson from the kids. It's not enough to smile and say, "I love you." You have to allow others to love you back -- to make real connections and have real relationships. People need people, not sympathetic smiles.

The issues haven't changed: guns, mental health, memories of the victims. All of these issues require action. If you're looking for something you can do today, the statement from the Pozner family of Newtown, who lost their son Noah, speaks volumes.

The Pozner family said they were overwhelmed and grateful for all the support "from people from all walks of life, from far and near."

"Noah, his classmates and the heroic teachers who gave their lives trying to protect them are with God in heaven," the statement said. "Now it's our responsibility to bring heaven down to earth -- act by act, good deed by good deed, until we reach the day when no family will need to endure grief and sorrow, the day we reach a world filled with goodness and light.''