Erika Petrelli
Erika Petrelli

Heading to the airport Friday night after a long week in NYC, I passed a billboard that read, simply, “I bet you wished you.” I bet you wished you. An invitation to fill in the blank, and at that moment my fill-in-the blank was “I wish I were home with my children.” On this day in particular that answer had me choking back tears and nearly jumping out of my skin in impatient anticipation. Because, hours earlier, a young man had walked into an elementary school in a quiet community in Connecticut and massacred 20 small children and 6 adults, after earlier murdering his own mother.

I don’t know how to write about this.

Dropping my own two small children off at school yesterday, I had a pit in my stomach and a general feeling of dread. After leaving them, I couldn’t stop crying. It feels like the very fabric of our societal structure, where young children are treasured and elementary schools are safe havens where security measures are put in place “just in case” was ripped to pieces when Adam Lanza blasted his way through those security measures and changed the lives of an entire town forever.

I lived in New York City on 9/11—I watched the first tower fall with my very own eyes—and somehow, I’m having just as hard a time reconciling this in my mind. I don’t know if it’s because I am a parent now, or if it’s the simple fact that those who were targeted for this unbearable act of evil were the most innocent among us. I just know that after an event like this, it’s so easy to see the world as W.H. Auden saw it in his poem “Stop All The Clocks”:

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

It’s tempting to scoop up my children and declare that I will home school them in some remote beach town. Tempting to say I’m going to avoid schools and movie theaters and shopping malls and tall buildings. Tempting to declare that we must always walk in packs and never open the door. Tempting to simply shrink away from this horrible, horrible world.

But that doesn’t work, either, does it? Raising children in a bubble of fear and seclusion would only serve to create adults not fit for the world that we live in. Adults who see the world from a fearful place, make decisions out of fear. And, ultimately, fear is at the root of violence, so then where would we be?

So instead of running away with my children to some mythical safehouse that exists nowhere outside of my imagination, I need to try and keep my face, and theirs, toward the lightness in this world—the parts that are not horrible, that are filled with love and beauty and kindness. I need to try and raise children who will actively work to make this world better; who, with our help, when they are grown will hopefully look back at our generation’s gun control policies and shake their head in disbelief, much like we do now when we remember the lack of car safety measures in place just a few decades ago, when seat belts were, at best, used as playthings and, at worst, absent all together.

When thinking of Friday’s billboard, “I bet you wished you,” I wish, more than anything, that I could somehow bring those precious lives back. That I could take away the heartache those families are facing. That I could make their daily waking up and remembering somehow tolerable. But I can’t. Nobody can. There is no making it better. There is no taking it away.

So instead I’m going to use their unspeakable loss to remind me that when I’m faced with the question “I bet you wished you,” I don’t want to have anything to fill in the blank.

Instead, I want to remember, again and hopefully for real this time, to keep my life filled not with wishes for better things but with contentment with that which I have. I want to remember to hold everyone that I encounter gently within my heart.  I want to generously offer smiles, time, patience. I want to never be the one who lets go of a hug first. I want to offer my thoughts and words of gratitude, out loud and often. I want my children to know that they are loved ferociously, no matter what.

I don’t have a question to leave you with today. Any questions I have would be directed at Adam Lanza, and he’s not around to answer them. And, even if he were, his answers would be useless to me. There is no “why” on heaven or earth that could justify what happened.

Instead, I am thinking about how to keep my heart filled with love in spite of it all.

The family/kids music group Charity and the JAMBand has a beautiful and simple song called “Loving Kindness.”  It goes, in part:

May you be happy, may you be well 
May you be safe and sound
May you be peaceful, may you be  at ease
With love in your heart and all around

You can sing your love
You can dance your love
You can play your love
Today, my love
You can laugh your love
You can cry your love
You can walk your love
And you can fly your love
All around

May you find a way to be at ease today. 


Wings and Whimsy will be taking a two week break for the holidays - see you in 2013.

Interested in having Erika’s blog come directly to your e-mail each Tuesday? Have comments to share?  E-mail her at erika@tlpnyc.com.



Erika Petrelli

By Erika Petrelli

Erika Petrelli is the Senior Vice President of Leadership Development (and self-declared Minister of Mischief) for The Leadership Program, a New York City-based organization. With a Masters degree in Secondary Education, Erika has been in the field of teaching and training for decades, and has been with The Leadership Program since 1999. There she has the opportunity to nurture the individual leadership spirit in both students and adults across the country, through training, coaching, keynotes, and writing. The legacy Erika strives daily to create is to be the runway upon which others take flight. If you enjoy these blogs, you should check out her interactive journal, On Wings & Whimsy: Finding the Extraordinary Within the Ordinary, now available for sale on Amazon. While her work takes her all around the country, Erika calls Indiana home.