Opinion: Small actions can make a big difference in changing the future

RBC I It’s hard to know what to say, especially in a forum like this, about the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., a week and a half ago.
Because this is a newspaper, and though I by no means fancy myself a journalist, I’m tempted to try my hand at hurtling statistics and tearing apart numbers, jumping all-in to the political hoopla still raging more than a week later, in print and on Facebook and blogs.
It would all be an act. And it would be disingenuous to those who are gone.
So instead of analyzing causes and effects and coming to a range of logical solutions, I’ll do a very unjournalistic thing and just write it the way it looks to this, frankly, somewhat lost observer.
That isn’t to say I believe the political conversations shouldn’t be happening. To some extent, I’m glad they are. Because if all the toil and tumult results in fewer scenarios that drop my stomach to my toes the day there’s a lockdown, or lets everyday people attend a movie without glancing over their shoulders throughout the viewing, that’s a good thing. I wish there was a simple answer to what is ultimately a complex problem.
But I look at our communities, one of which I’ve been a part of off and on since I was 12, and I wonder if there aren’t simpler questions. Like the essential one: couldn’t the same thing happen here as happened in Newtown, and if it could—which it most certainly could—what can we do in the here, in the now, to prevent it?
After going to college and earning my degree, I never planned to return to Rangely. I was going to do bigger things in a bigger place and Rangely didn’t fit the bill. My husband Mike brought me back, and he brought me, figuratively at least, kicking and screaming. He returned because this was his home, and he loved the people, the area and the lifestyle. And after the three years I’d initially given him for staying had turned into 10, I no longer had to question his decision to return. Because I, too, had come back to northwest Colorado in the same ways he had.
I had returned to a job where teachers and staff cared enough about the students to call them up long after they’d been graduated from CNCC. I had returned to a village where raising three children was the embraced work not only of my husband and me, but of our old teachers and parents’ friends, who gave our kids the same advice they’d given us. I had come back to forgiveness of the past, when who I was and things I’d done weren’t held against me.
But now, just over a week after the shooting, I think about those for whom Rangely is not a sanctuary but a prison, an isolation booth, or a magnifying glass. I think about the hurt and pain beneath the facades of people I greet in the grocery store, or the hardware store, or the Loaf ‘N’ Jug. And I know that the stories they carry are the same ones we all endure, those of disappointment or failure or loss. And most of them, however painful, will not end in tragedy.
But some will: in the tragedy of a failed marriage, or a friendship severed, or a reputation lost. Or, God forbid, in a tragedy of deeper proportions, the kind that was unthinkable in Newtown or Littleton or Aurora until it happened.
And in my own lostness amid people raging at the media, or at guns, or at lawmakers, I can look to myself, my own actions, and ask: What am I missing? Who am I missing?
Who needs an invitation, a kind word, a gesture of respect? Who needs someone at the other end of the phone line listening to their stories, their frustrations, their successes?
Who has material needs I might help meet, even if in seemingly small ways?
What support am I giving local entities that help troubled people, either financially or with my time and effort?
How am I supporting our schools and their work to make safer spaces for our children?
How am I pushing beyond my comfort zone to reach out to someone nobody else is?
To most of these questions, I see troubling gaps in my own response. And I realize there’s a bigger picture than this, that some problems are larger than we can tackle across backyard fences or with a smile and a handshake.
But still I wonder whether the kind of change that has spread with movements like Random Acts of Kindness could make some small difference on our own turf, in the here and now. Whether small steps of proactive intervention have a place in preventing the next national tragedy.