We were in the car, driving home, listening to NPR. A news reporter came on air, interrupting the typical programming, reporting on the horrific shooting in Newtown, Conn.
As I listened to the story, my eyes threatening with tears, I thought of the parents who lost their children today, not just their children, but the promise of a future: the loss of their unknown grandbabies, the loss of their happiness, and the loss of their comfort. I thought of how one man, one boy really, took away a piece of their life that they can never fully recover from.
I turned off the news cycle, unable to listen, feeling sick to my stomach. Instead, I found myself reciting the poem, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
I heard the bells on Christmas day / Their old familiar carols play, And wild and sweet the words repeat / Of peace on earth, good-will to men.
I thought how, as the day had come, / The belfries of Christendom. Had rolled along th’unbroken song / Of peace on earth, good-will to men.
Till ringing, singing on its way. / The world revolved from night to day / A voice, a chime, a chant sublime, / Of peace on earth, good-will to men.
Then from each black, accursed mouth / The cannon thundered in the South, / And with the sound / The carols drowned / Of peace on earth, good-will to men.
It was as if an earthquake rent / The hearth-stones of a continent, / And made forlorn / The households born / Of peace on earth, good-will to men.
And in despair I bowed my head: / ‘There is no peace on earth’ I said‘ / For hate is strong, and mocks the song / Of peace on earth, good-will to men.’
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: / ‘God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; / The wrong shall fail, the right prevail. / With peace on earth, good-will to men.’
I wish my daughters were inheriting a world where such deep hurt did not exist. I wish I could protect them forever from knowing loss, from knowing pain, from knowing that the world can be an unsafe place. The poem above speaks of despair, hopelessness over the state of humanity, but ultimately it speaks of hope. The bells sweet sound swell over the roar of the cannons and sanguinity is restored. The poem insists that God still influences the world, touches humanity, and the joyous Christmas bells proclaim God’s presence. The ringing bells unite the world in joy.
As we pull into the garage Daisy asks to make a Christmas project, while I hear Lily waking up from a short-lived nap, ready to nurse. I gather the girls into my arms, asking for kisses and hugs, them both freely dolling them out, I commit this moment, these hugs and slobbery kisses, to memory.
The words of Longfellow’s poem still ring in my heart as I set up the painting supplies for Daisy, put on Pandora, and get us set up for lunch. “I heard the bells on Christmas Day” reminds me of the enduring concept that despite tragedy, loss and warfare, there is within most of us the hope and wish for “peace on earth, good-will to men.”
And this is the real message of Christmas.