How to find a ray of sunshine when the days are darkest

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Dorothee Wilhelm

I was seriously thinking about taking down my Christmas decorations last week when news broke of yet another school shooting – this time in Minnesota. It happened just seven blocks from my son’s house in a beautiful, friendly suburb of Twin Cities.

Was his family okay? To get an answer, I did not call. I texted. They were fine, replied #4 Son (birth order, not quality of life).

“The SWAT team that responded to the call went to the wrong school,” he reported. “Not a confidence builder.”

Because I was working on this column, I added. “It’s going to be hard to be funny this time.”

“Maybe don’t be funny,” he replied immediately. “Sometimes things aren’t funny.”

But there is this feeling that we have to find something good. “Look for the silver lining” the old song went, and we all sang it during the Cold War days after World War II, when we expected to be attacked at any moment. In the Cold War era, every news bulletin was filled with predictions of impending destruction – and that was before television or the Internet.

After Russia detonated a nuclear bomb in 1949, schools across the United States began holding air raid drills, training students to take shelter under their desks. Duck and Cover was the name of the game. The idea was to make the experience appear like a delightful interlude, as atomic wars so often seem to be.

The mascot was a small cartoon turtle named Bert. It hid in its shell as we were supposed to duck under our desks, covering our heads with our hands. How this could provide protection against a nuclear bomb was unclear. Moreover, since girls were not allowed to wear anything other than dresses or skirts in school, our bottom garments were discovered throughout the Cold War, providing research material for a whole generation of future Victoria’s Secret customers.

The adults claimed that this lighthearted approach would protect us, and we pretended that we believed them. The problem was that, unlike Bert, we had no shells.

We also thought we had no future. My goal at the time was to live to be 16. I figured after that, I’d be too old to care, and everything would be in decline anyway.

I first wrote about the shock and trauma of a school shooting in 1998. It happened at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon (4 dead, 25 injured). My daughter #2 went to the wake service with classmates from the University of Oregon. She sent me a piece of the blue ribbon the students had woven on the schoolyard fence in memory of the fallen.

I wrote about it in this same column of this same newspaper. (Let’s hear it for free press.) Readers were quick to respond, and one wrote in to say, “I read your column every month because you’re usually funny.” Well, I read your column today and you weren’t funny. The message was clear, and that’s how I learned that it was my duty to find and bring back that little glimmer of hope that still manages to survive.

In our religious education classes years ago, we helped children make light holders vitrified with ash from the eruption of Mount St. Helens so they would know that beauty can come from a disaster. Canadian maker Sandra Solon uses melted Christmas candles and her children’s original art to create Valentine’s Day keepsakes. Beauty can come out of meltdowns.

The first thing to do is turn off the radio and television, and anything that claims to give you the news. Keep the journal though. Then take a deep breath and look for something that will trigger a smile. Dr. Patt Schwab says she tries to make five strangers smile every day. My favorite thing about standing at the grocery store is trying to get the whole line to do Tai Chi warm-up exercises. Sometimes it works. Sometimes they throw products at you.

As I stood in line last week, the customer in front of me, a young mother, didn’t have enough money. She frantically rummaged through her purse to no avail. She only needed $6.

The clerk said to me, “Could you help him?” He shouldn’t have asked. I remembered my days as a young army bride without a penny.

“I can’t leave you,” she said. Cry now.

“You would do it for me,” I said, and I knew it was true.

We’re going to get there one way or another. I was going to take off my Christmas decorations, but maybe I’ll leave them on for a bit longer. We can use light.

Where to find Dorothy in February

Contact Dorothy Wilhelm at [email protected]; www.itsnevertoolate.com; PO Box 881, DuPont, WA 98327; or 800-548-9264.

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