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After a national tragedy, a Christmas for healing

A view of a memorial in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 20.

Brendan SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images

A view of a memorial in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 20.

‘I just want Christmas.” Those words, from a frightened 6-year-old child huddling with classmates and a teacher in a locked bathroom, spoke for millions of people confronting their worst fears about mankind in the wake of the massacre at Newtown, Conn. But then, amid an inexpressible grief, thousands of Americans set out in the spirit of the season to salve the wounds of the children of Newtown, and of the nation.

From the president on down, from neighbors to clergy to members of the media, people came together to send a different message — that this is one nation, whose spirits are united in times of distress. The tone was largely the same from Democrats and Republicans, from Fox News and MSNBC, from Christians and Jews and Muslims. Expressions of support came from unions, corporations, and wealthy philanthropists. Even the unyielding National Rifle Association struck a conciliatory tone, declaring itself to be an organization of “4 million moms and dads, sons and daughters,” who “were shocked, saddened, and heartbroken.” (Soon enough, though, the organization renewed its hard-line advocacy for guns.)

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The sense of time stopping and people standing together was vaguely reminiscent of the days after 9/11, except that there was no imminent threat to rally against, no single common enemy to hold people together. Grief, along with an awareness of the fragility of humanity, was the glue.

Now, Christmas is here — in Newtown, a deeply somber and reflective one. Christmas joy can be strengthened by an awareness of those who’ve been lost, all that is fragile, and the thoughts and feelings that are shared by families around the world. Reminders of our common humanity make good-faith compromises seem possible — across a vast range of problems. May the spirit of today, and of all the days of shared purpose that preceded it, carry forth into the new year.

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