Last night I chased the sun as I sped home toward Chicago, trying to beat Draco as I drove into him. With the engine whirring, I turned down the music and finally, for the first time in weeks, let myself really think.
It has been a heavy Christmas season. The demands of work mounted as the holidays drew near, instead of slowly tapering as I was accustomed during school. My siblings and I are grown, and the magic allure and build-up has tamped down. These days we just worry about what to get each other instead of how to celebrate with one another. Even Mother Nature wasn’t feeling merry and refused to blanket us with her customary snow, settling instead for days of cold spit or extreme dryness.
What finally weighed down the Christmas season was the tragedy at Sandy Hook. And for the first time, as I drove in silence, I refused to let myself simply categorize that terrible day as a tragedy, for it’s so much more than that.
After not too long, my vision blurred with tears as I thought of the victims, mostly children, who died not for principle, at least not one we can point to. They weren’t killed because they were bullies or bullied. They weren’t killed because they were someone’s wrong religion or wrong nationality. They were just killed. And that, I think, is what keeps troubling each of us, no matter where we are or how we’re related to the incident.
What can we possibly do as a society to grieve, especially for a crime that has no obvious explanation? What can we do to help others grieve? To help the families grieve? How do we put the next foot forward? How do we send our children to school, our parents to work? How do we walk through the grocery store and trust we’re safe? What do we do to recover some hope, some faith in the future, some reason to keep going?
The questions weaved and ducked, piling themselves, unresolved, somewhere in my mind. I pulled off to a rest stop to grab a drink and let my legs wander with my thoughts. I walked to the counter, still in a contemplative haze, but managed a smile as I requested a drink. As I pulled out my dollar and change, the kid, many years younger than me, smiled and waved me off. “It’s the holidays. Enjoy.”
“Really?” I asked, as surprised as if he’d handed me a diamond bracelet instead of a Coke.
“Absolutely. Merry Christmas,” he said, turning to continue wiping the counter. Not even pausing to wait for acknowledgement of his good deed.
He likely forgot about it minutes later, but it stuck with me. I realize the act was simple, really almost nothing, but acts of random kindness, small gestures, are perhaps how we can brighten and lighten this holiday season and restore in one another faith in the people around us, even in the wake of atrocity.
He’s not the only one being generous. A new viral movement, 26 acts of kindness (one for each of the victims of Sandy Hook), started by Ann Curry from NBC News is encouraging people to do whatever they can to reach out to people. From all over the world people are tweeting their good acts — ranging from donating toys, to paying a neighbor’s rent, to buying coffee for the person behind them in line at Starbucks — with the hashtag #26acts.
The debates will ring on and on for months, on gun control, on mental health, on parenting, reminding us every day of the innocent victims and the motiveless crime. We can hope that from that blather will result a great change to make schools safe once again. Until then, let us comfort one another in our quiet acts. Let us reach out to strangers and to neighbors and remind them of the good in the world, too. Even if it is just a free drink.
Tara Hunt is an associate editor of this magazine. Contact her at email@example.com.