The school shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children and six staff members of Sandy Hook Elementary School were killed last week, is a tragic reminder of the sanctity of life. Of promising young lives cut short and the uniqueness and preciousness of every single person.
As a mother of two, I try to imagine the grief of the parents of the dead -- it must be overwhelming and all consuming. Just thinking of the tragedy leaves me with a heavy heart, tears in my eyes and the feeling that I need to lie down before I faint.
Unfathomable horror. Unimaginable grief.
Part of working through a tragedy, so I have read, is continuing with the routines of life that provide structure and a sense of normalcy. It's the everyday routines that help us get through the day.
Holiday traditions are important as well; they allow us to set apart the special times from the everyday times. They remind us of past holidays and memories of loved ones. They set apart times that are sacred and special.
My favorite Christmas traditions are somewhat secular but have a holy theme. The movie "It's a Wonderful Life," and the television special "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" are two of my favorites.
Every Christmas Eve, I watch "It's a Wonderful Life" while making the strata, a yummy, time-consuming breakfast casserole for Christmas morning (one of my 13-year-old's favorite holiday traditions). The theme of the movie: that we touch many lives along our way and life is precious.
My two children and I try to catch "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" on TV. Created in 1964, two years before I was born, it served as a staple of pre-Christmas entertainment and anticipation as I was growing up. You knew you were watching a story that was not real, but it was so entertaining that you watched anyway.
The core of the story, a reindeer that does not fit in due to an unusual, luminous nose and gets made fun of (remember the other reindeer "laugh and call him names"), ends with vindication. Rudolph with his "nose so bright" saves the day by guiding Santa's sleigh on "one foggy Christmas Eve."
This story, while simplistic, resonates because it is at the core of who we are as people. No one really fits in, we all have our eccentricities and unusual attributes (which in Rudolph's case ends up being a Christmas-saving gift), and we desperately want to help others, to save others, to be useful to our fellow man.
In most cases, it's not so easy to spot our gifts or the ways in which we can be useful. Few of us have blinking noses to inform us that we may be useful "one foggy Christmas Eve." And so far, I have not heard Santa Claus call out to me, asking, "Jackie, with your nose so bright, won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"
But, as is the case with most stories, this story resonates because it reminds us of a fundamental truth in life.
We all have gifts given to us by God. They can be used by God for his purposes to touch others.
It's possible that the journey of life is to figure out our talents, hear God's call and put our gifts into the service of others.
But how to hear this call during such a frantic and busy time? Possibly with a moment of silence.
In the wake of last week's tragedy, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy has requested a moment of silence Friday, Dec. 21, at 9:30 a.m. EST, a week after the shootings. "Let us all come together collectively to mourn the loss of far too many promising lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School...Though we will never know the full measure of sorrow experienced by these families, we can let them know that we stand with them during this difficult time," he said in a statement on his website.
A moment for us to say a prayer for those lost in the tragedy and for their families.
And possibly, if we are really still during this moment, or another during this special season, we will hear God whispering how to use the talents he's given us.