How fitting. How timely. An enormous Christmas tree in Newtown, Conn., has become the focal point for people who are leaving stuffed animals, candles, and messages of affection in a memorial to the 20 children killed in Sandy Hook elementary school last Friday.
Christmas, like observances common to many religions, is a time to embrace and remember a child who brought the promise of innocence and purity to all. Judaism has its story of a baby Moses saved for greatness and a young Joseph rescued from the pit. Hindus look to tales of baby Krishna while Buddhists see the promise of innocence in an infant Buddha.
Such is humanity’s strong desire for childlike purity that even the communist leaders of the Soviet Union required children to wear badges with images of “baby Lenin” and to learn myths about his youth. (It was a crafty way to supplant a popular faith in baby Jesus.)
So, too, in fiction are babies often used to depict a new dawn. A contemporary example is the animated movie “The Lion King.” The cub Simba is held up by his father at sunrise to herald the promise of a bright future.
This heartfelt desire for innocence helps explain the intense reaction to what happened in Sandy Hook – the public drive for more gun laws, better mental-health care, safer schools, and a host of other ways to prevent another loss of the most innocent in society. These efforts are worthy of strong support. But they can only be sustained if we recall, months and years from now, what their purpose really is.
Each funeral this week for the children of Newtown should be a reminder of a Christmas-like promise – in any faith – to bring out the innate goodness in people. Here, for example, is a statement from the parents of one of the slain children, Daniel Barden:
“Everyone who has ever met Daniel remembers and loves him. Words really cannot express what a special boy Daniel was. Such a light. Always smiling, unfailingly polite, incredibly affectionate, fair and so thoughtful towards others, imaginative in play, both intelligent and articulate in conversation. He embodied everything that is wholesome and innocent in the world.”
For the children of Sandy Hook who survived, one of the ways being used to remind them of their innocence is to let them play with specially trained golden retrievers. Nine of the dogs were sent to Newtown by a Chicago church to help the children calm their fears and learn to smile again. “I think that it does connect the children to the innocence that has been shattered right now in the town,” a Newtown resident told NBC News.
When adults look to children as reminders of innocence, they touch on a common theme in many holy books. Jesus himself said, “Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein.”
Purity, like light itself, can dispel the darkness that drives people to harm others. The motives of the Newtown killer may never be known. But that doesn’t really matter. The reaction to the tragedy itself is driven by an unseen force that can overpower any evil or fear of it.
When the Old Testament says that “a little child shall lead them,” it is in reference to peace. Newtown can reclaim its peace, symbolized by the lights on their big Christmas tree.