“It was Christmas eve babe
In the drunk tank.
An old man said to me,
Won’t see another one.’
And then he sang a song,
The rare auld Mountain Dew
I turned my face away and dreamed about you…”
These are the opening lines of The Pogues’ magnum opus, Fairytale of New York. Over the last 25 years, the song has topped the UK’s top Christmas song chart and become a favorite to many who identify with the song’s tale of a desperate and disillusioned couple on the brink of collapse clinging to a feint remnant of hope. It’s no White Christmas. It’s utterly depressing. Yet somehow, inside its bleak landscape, there remains a slight hint that in our darkest moments, there still might be something good left to believe in. The song is a lot like the Holiday season we now find ourselves in.
This year, the usual holiday stressors, the little Christmas annoyances that we all complain about have suddenly become meaningless. In a season built around the ideas of hope and joy there seems to be very little of either to be found. Since the violence and unimaginable heartbreak of December 14th, we have all been searching for some remnant of hope, something meaningful and good that we can pull out of the wreckage of that day. In my darkest moments since the news broke I have felt an overwhelming sense that there isn’t one. I have felt hopeless and angry and saddened by the sheer pointlessness of it all. What possible good could ever come from such a disgusting and heinous act? For the families and friends of the Sandy Hook elementary victims, I cannot begin to imagine what solace they could possibly find. What do you say, what act of kindness could you possibly offer that might even for a second alleviate their sorrow? I don’t know if there is anything.
Now, I am a cynical person. I have always been dubious of candle light vigils and ribbons worn in remembrance. These sorts of displays throughout the years have always bothered me. Facebook pages filled with the little smiling faces of the twenty children that no longer exist, achieves what exactly? If it is not to inspire a change, then to me it is a waste of time. I have always doubted the intensions behind the people who seem to throw themselves so deeply into these tragedies. “Grief Hogs” and “Professional Mourners” I have not so nicely called them in the past. But maybe I’ve just been too jaded, too far removed from previous tragedies to feel their sting. Maybe this one hit too close to home. And although I still won’t wear a ribbon or light a candle or join a Facebook remembrance page, I’ve been thinking that maybe this desire to do something, anything, is where hope is found. Whether it’s people donating food, clothes and money in the aftermath of hurricane Sandy or the thousands of people on Twitter committing themselves to perform twenty six random acts of kindness (#26Acts) in honor of the Sandy Hook victims, it is our overwhelming capacity for good when things are at their worst, that seems to offer some hope this holiday season.
Hope can also be found in the amazing acts of courage that transpired inside the school. As you dig deeper into some of the stories of that terrible day you hear stories of hope and bravery and selflessness. Amidst all the chaos and carnage there were people who gave their lives so others might live. There were teachers who saved lives by remaining cool headed while calming the fears of their little kids as a tempest raged around them. The fact that more young and innocent lives were not lost that day is almost a miracle in itself and a reason to be truly thankful.
For the rest of us, all lucky enough to have our loved ones unharmed and safe, this tragedy has given us the gift of greater appreciation for all the people in our lives. My older son was home sick that day so I lay in bed with him as he used my arm for a pillow and we watched The Year without a Santa Claus over and over again. In between the, Snow Miser, Heat Miser song and dance act, I read about the unfolding horror on my ipad. Later that day when I went to pick up my son Patrick from school, I watched as parents, some teary eyed, eagerly hugged their children as they ushered them to their cars. My son came out yelling and screaming about Minecraft this, and zombies that, and whatever else was in his head, totally oblivious to everything outside his boyhood world. I didn’t make some overt display of gratitude or hug him tightly, I just took in all his youth and light and energy and gave a relieved sigh. My boys were safe, they were happy and they were with me, as loud and annoying as ever. My kids will enjoy their Christmas but I will watch them as they open their gifts through a bittersweet lens. I am a lucky man, it’s too bad it took this God awful event for me to truly realize it.
This Holiday season will go on for us like every year in the past. There will happy reunions and parties, there will be excited kids and laughter and some stress and maybe a little too much drinking. But there will also be a black cloud hanging in the air, a dark reminder of how fragile our happiness is; a sickening feeling that all is not right in the world. Let this black cloud inspire us all toward doing something good, something worthy of the lives that were so needlessly taken before their time. Let’s hope that this horrible feeling stays with us long enough to enact the change needed so that no one ever has to experience what the people of Newtown have gone through. My hope this holiday season is that maybe through our actions, we can, in some small way, help those left broken hearted. I hope is that in the days, months and years ahead, the people left in the wake of this horrible act may be able to find some comfort and some joy.
Gerry McGuire took his love of history, trivia, comedy, literature, music and film and turned himself into a pop culture quoting, chat machine. He is like Cliff Claven from Cheers if Cliff Claven was stunningly handsome, awesomely funny and unbelievably humble. He fancies himself what the French would describe as a raconteur or what Americans call, a loud mouth. Gerry writes for Milford Living Magazine, sings in the Celtic rock band The Butcher Boys and is a stay at home dad.