What is a mother to do? Within two hours drive from my quiet town, another quiet town has had unbearable and unbeatable grief whipped down on it with the terrible act of one poor young man on Friday, December 14.
What could I do here at home? What could any of us do to stay the outpouring of tears, grief and anger over a horrific act of violence wrought upon small children and the women who safeguard their learning day in and day out?
I was a She-Bear pacing my house, my lair, not sure what action could receive my growing need to do. On Sunday evening, after a day of adventure with my daughter in an effort to distract us from our helplessness, we listened to the prayer vigil in Newtown as we drove home. Hearing that boy sing a magnificent Muslim prayer followed by voice upon voice evoking the Divine, spreading comforting and inspired words over the chasm of pain that had opened in Newtown, we were riveted to our seats. Then, when President Obama spoke, we knew that we had to do something.
The next morning, I sent an email to my circle of women here in the Berkshires announcing that I was heading south to show up on the streets of Newtown to fill whatever need I could find. And if any of them wanted to join me, they could. I was willing to scrub the floors of the church kitchens or sweep the sidewalks. Within minutes I got word from my pal Gina that her friend Beth had a mission of bringing freshly baked apple pies to Newtown and was gathering bakers in the northwest corner of New Jersey to prepare the pies.
Moving at the Pace of Pie
I called Beth at 10:22 am. By 2:00 pm, Catherine was out of school with me in the car driving towards the turnpike. By 5:30 pm, we arrived at the home of strangers who quickly became friends. We rolled up our sleeves and learned what we were to repeat over and over again until the final pies came out of the oven. We helped bring the total number of pies up to 240 by 10:00 pm.
There is great comfort in baking apple pies. I never knew the potential one slice of pie could have on a soul until the next day.
We rose early on Tuesday to load Beth’s RV. Once my car was filled with baking supplies for the pies Beth hoped to make in Newtown this week, we left. Only a two-hour drive, but our hearts beat harder the closer we got in to Connecticut. By the time we arrived at the Newtown Youth Academy, we were no longer a group of people hurrying to our destination. We were people moving at the Pace of Pie, come to serve kindness.
Yesterday stands in my memory as a day of cutting and serving the golden-crusted crowns of dough covered apples, rippled edges being picked up by fingers young and old to savor every last bite. It is a day of offering plates to people silenced by their grief only to stand together long enough to hear story after story of this remarkable time, this life altering experience, this effort- a groaning effort to encompass the shock and the living beyond that shock. Something about eating a slice of pie in the company of others eased the sad faces I encountered. The smiles of appreciation, the hugs received and given, the requests of pie for others, we delivered pies to those carrying the weight of a week full of wakes and funerals, of obituaries. The people of Newtown are attending more funerals in one small week than some people attend in a lifetime. One sweet teenager I talked with said he felt numb. As he carried along a slice of pie for his sister, he said he could not imagine why the media persisted in his small town. I told him that there are millions of people trying to figure out how to live with themselves, unable to hand him a slice of pie or walk the rainy street together with him. Those are the people CNN is reaching. A nation of people eager to help, desperately aching for this small town of strong sturdy community members who are showing us all how it is done.
This is what my friend Maria Sirois wrote on Monday morning:
When tragedy strikes here is what we can do:
Feel what we feel so that neither grief nor anger become poison within us and so that others have permission to feel all that they feel.
Bear witness without flinching from darkness.
Tell the truth.
Honor the ordinary heroes among us and those who do the difficult work of holding the story in all its despair and desolation, and those who begin the long hard job of clearing and cleaning, uncovering and naming as much as can be uncovered and named.
Hold onto the bits of light that emerge wherever they do so and from whomever.
Surround those who grieve with care that is authentic and wholehearted.
Love them up, feed them, show up and show up again. Bake if you can, drive if you can, buy milk, share your memories when they are ready and until then listen. Listen. Listen.
And, however possible, be as a sequoia rooted in your conviction that none of us need go through this alone and certain that every twig, every limb, every branch holds the promise of spring even as it anchors the ice of winter.
I cannot say I have done enough. But I did something. And coming home to my quiet town, to my circles of friends, to my family, after having moved at the Pace of Pie makes me know that it does not matter who you help. All that matters is that you help. If you are like me, stricken with grief, pacing your house, disturbed by the commercialization of this holiday season more than ever for thinking of the families for whom this season will hold nothing but sadness for years to come- if you feel even an inkling of any of these things, then I urge you, I plead with you-
GO BAKE A PIE.
Find someone in your life, on your street for which the gift of a pie would change their day.
And, if you want to stand with the families in Newtown, bake a pie for a school teacher or a policeman or EMT. Find out who would be a first-responder in your town and go hand them a pie.
Or, even a shoebox of home-baked Christmas cookies.
The simple act of rolling out dough, melding butter and flour with your strength and care, sweetened with the summer’s worth of sunshine released by the apples inside that crust, you will create a gift that will be remembered for years to come.
One father, after walking past our Free Pie sign a number of times on Tuesday morning, finally paused and reached for a slice. ‘Pie says it all’ he grinned.
Today I walked along the Green River. The banks have changed with our heavy rains this past fall. But, those banks still run along the river, they hold the charging flow of water, the snags of branches, the swirling eddies around tree trunks. The banks of the river, just like our hearts, expand with every life experience, both joy and sorrow. The banks are changed. But the banks remain.
And so do we remain.
I urge you to let this terrible time change you. Let yourself be reshaped by the gushing waters of sorrow and pain, let yourself be expanded to hold this new level of awareness that Newtown is adjusting to a new normal. We are all different today than we were just last Friday morning at 8:30 am. I ask you to let that difference move you.
We can be standers-by or we can step in.
The fact that I could step all the way on to the sidewalk in front of the Edmond Town Hall in Newtown is a fact of geography.
The fact that you can make a difference in the life of someone in need, in your own neighborhood, remains up to you.
Will you let the shootings in Newtown change your life?
My friend Regena sent me this link. You can sign a petition to urge President Obama and Vice President Biden to take the action they know is needed for stricter gun control.
Here is Beth reading us some of the emails she got on Tuesday evening. After only eight hours and at that point about 125 pies sliced, the townspeople were offering thanks. Here is Beth’s website. If you’d like to donate to The World Needs More Pie, for the efforts in Newtown, follow that link. Everything beyond Beth’s costs for supplies will be donated to grief counseling services in Newtown. This is double philanthropy at it’s best. By supporting Beth doing her work in the world, you provide a community with services that will be needed long after Beth and her RV pull out of town.
We can each leave such a lasting legacy.
May yours start with your heart.