Skip to main content

Newtown survivors, choose faith, charity and hope

By Liz Carlston, Special to CNN
updated 9:28 AM EST, Sun December 30, 2012
Mourners wipe tears away as they file out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after the funeral of Emilie Parker in Ogden, Utah, on Saturday, December 22. Mourners wipe tears away as they file out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after the funeral of Emilie Parker in Ogden, Utah, on Saturday, December 22.
HIDE CAPTION
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
Newtown funerals: Community says goodbye
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Liz Carlston: My heart aches for the children and parents at Sandy Hook
  • Carlston: I went through the Columbine shooting and know the pain
  • She says life won't be the same for the survivors; it's important to push out the anger
  • Carlston: Choose faith, choose charity, choose hope; then, life will be livable again

Editor's note: Liz Carlston is the author of "Surviving Columbine: How Faith Helps Us Heal When Tragedy Strikes." She is compiling a book with other Columbine survivors for the students at Sandy Hook Elementary School. If you'd like to help with the project, you can contact her at: carlston33@yahoo.com.

(CNN) -- My heart aches for the children, parents and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Like them, I know what it means to have life turned on its head by unprecedented violence. On the morning of April 20, 1999, two senior students walked into Columbine High School and began a shooting spree. Someone pulled the fire alarm and I was able to escape my trigonometry classroom. While I didn't suffer any injury, people I knew and admired were killed. That awful day left a permanent scar on our community in Littleton, Colorado.

But the Columbine shooting did not define us. We are defined by the acts of goodness that followed. People in our community bonded and helped each other get through the tragedy.

Liz Carlston
Liz Carlston

Hundreds of comfort quilts were sewed and handed out to those who were trying to recover from the anguish and pain. Restaurants provided free meals in the days after the shooting. Strangers offered hugs to each other at the Clement Park Memorial for support.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



No one ever should experience a Columbine moment. No one wants to feel assaulted, offended or hurt by an inexplicable event. But sometimes, those things happen.

The way we respond to those moments is crucial in how we build and rebuild our relationships, and more importantly, how we rebuild our lives.

'We should talk about our children'
One week later: 'Newtown is rallying'
Showing Newtown they're not alone

There are two ways we can respond to a traumatic experience -- as a victim or a survivor. Early on, I pitifully used Columbine to justify personal failures and shortcomings. Eventually, I realized that I owned the way I reacted to situations and how I engaged with those around me.

More than a decade later, I still think about Columbine. I do not dwell on the grotesque details of the day. In quiet meditation, I think of the lives that were taken and the lessons that help me move forward. I appreciate the subtle and profound consequences that our thoughts and actions can have on others. I became slower to anger and quicker to love. The inconsiderate driver or long line at the post office doesn't spoil my day anymore.

I share my story to offer hope to those impacted by violence -- those who wonder whether they'll be able to regain the life they once knew. The answer is no. Life won't be the same. But one can, over time, find happiness. When you are able to come out of a tragedy you'll be stronger with a greater capacity to love, more determination to serve others and desire to mend broken family ties. And you'll feel joy that comes from these actions.

To those who are wading through a mountain of pain and sorrow right now, please know that it will be OK. Take time to grieve your loss. Talk through your feelings, even if it's no more than ramblings. Live your life in a way that honors the memory of the precious lives that were taken. Push out the anger and fill your mind with a positive outlook. I promise this approach will bring more peace and joy.

There may be some people who are angry at God. I was not. In Columbine's aftermath, my faith was an essential part of my healing process. There's a scripture passage that I take comfort in:

Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, the design of your God concerning those things which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings.

I believe in God and trust that He has a plan for our lives. His added measure of strength always comes at the moment when we've exhausted our best effort. When tragedies like Columbine or Sandy Hook happen, we are reminded of the fragility and precious nature of life. This gives rise to the question, what will you do with the time you have?

Choose faith, choose charity, choose hope. Then, life will be livable again.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Liz Carlston.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Tue July 29, 2014
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 2:18 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
updated 2:52 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
updated 2:31 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
updated 1:44 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Mon July 28, 2014
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
updated 2:22 PM EDT, Sun July 27, 2014
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
updated 6:25 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
updated 11:10 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
updated 11:33 AM EDT, Sat July 26, 2014
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
updated 8:45 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
updated 2:50 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
updated 9:49 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
updated 6:05 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
updated 7:42 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 2:53 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
updated 12:37 PM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Thu July 24, 2014
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Wed July 23, 2014
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
updated 8:09 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT