What would Christmas be without a child? Would it fill us with such wonder, such pathos, such hope? Doubtful. According to the ancient scriptures, the moment God chose to take the form of a child humanity and God both took on new meaning. Divinity was approachable; humanity was suddenly capable of great elevation. The child is what makes Christmas, pure and simple.
Would the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut carry such deep pain within us if so many children hadn’t been killed? Would parents in Canada have rushed to school at the end of the day to usher their kids home with such a sense of intensity? Again, doubtful.
If author Carl Sandburg is correct, that a child, “is God’s opinion that the world should go on,” what happens to those parents as over 20 children’s voices go silent this weekend? How will they go on?
It remains one of the great ironies of humanity that people represent the best and the worst of it – its greatest hope and its ultimate danger. For the next few days thousands of Canadians will attempt to find some way of reaching out to a devastated community, either through prayer or through some gift of kindness. But in the end their ultimate motivation will be the overwhelming emotion of the loss of children. As they die, that portion of us still capable of a sense of wonder dies along with them. Children see magic because they look for it; we only rediscover it as we follow them. This is what Jesus meant when he reminded a generation that “even a child” would lead them in hope and faith.
In the famous movie Christmas in Connecticut, a well-known food writer, though single, attempts to convince others that she has children and leads a perfect kind of life. The movie is about how that falsehood is exposed but how she discovers love in the process. It’s a charming piece of cinema. Well, this Christmas in Connecticut, men and women who were real parents and who, like most of us, dedicated their lives for the betterment of their kids, have massive holes where their hearts used to be. Who of us can imagine the unbelievable sadness of it all – the unfilled stockings, the unopened presents, the lack of wonder on the faces on Christmas morning, the lack of joy at grandma and grandpa’s?
What transpired in Newtown will cause untold words to be written and said about why it happened. Gun control will be the big issue and it will be hotly debated. But this is life we are talking about here, not policy. Did the senseless murders constitute a deeper policy failure? Was there something more that could be done? This is not the time for such questions, though it will surely come. This is the time for humanity – the sheer depravity and nobility of it all. We must cry until we are spent, pray until we are wordless, give until we are poor. In the very season where we celebrate a child in a manger we have a community that has lost many of its children. The irony of this will drive us to despair, to question, to doubt.
But then we will look at our children and a spark will be kindled once more. There are parts in each of our beings that we had no idea existed until a child entered our lives. This is more true of mothers than anyone else, for they carried such life long before it became visible. And yet we all understand it. A tragedy that emptied our souls over the loss of so many young lives is somehow overcome, in time, through the very reality we feared we had lost – children. It’s just as Fyodor Dostoyevsky reminded us: “The soul is healed by being with children.”
As we have reached year’s end, we hear increasingly of the Mayan prophecy of the end of the world. The majority of us don’t buy it, of course, but right now, in Connecticut, the world just ended for loving families who are struggling to imagine how they can go on. How do you even wash the lost child’s bedding, pack away their toys, open a heart to their memories? This will be a long journey, a dark night of the soul that appears not to end.
But it will, through faith, endurance, community, love, support, and the need to get on with living. Above all, healing will return through children themselves. We must live with them, through them, and for them. We must come together as communities and acknowledge that more children are growing hungry than ever, that their economic futures are being robbed by the present, that their dreams now lie farther beyond their reach, that their world is more dangerous. Who knows, perhaps our children can lead us to the paths of equity where all are of equal importance, regardless of their differences, and we can obliterate the gap between rich and poor. Maybe we will learn our children never did fully belong to our present, but to a future calling out for itself. Maybe by allowing ourselves to be filled with wonder, as they are, we can heal ourselves.
But not right now. This is the moment of grief for some dear families in what was a peaceful town in Connecticut. We mourn with them, but we will pray that what they have lost this week will be recaptured through the presence in this world of those who yet possess the potential to bring us to a better day – the children.