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Christmas and crisis bring out the 'collective we'

Published: Saturday, Dec. 22 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

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Each year, when I was a kid, my Dad's employer, the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad, would hold a Christmas party for all its employees and their families. The event was usually held in a high school auditorium, and all I can remember is us kids jumping up and down waiting for Santa to come and give us our stockings. Oh, how times have changed.

I thought waiting for Santa to give me a red-meshed, string stocking full of nuts (still in the shell), an orange, an apple and a candy cane was the biggest gift ever. It was so simple, so innocent and, as I think about life now, it was and still is.

I realize now it was not the size of the gift, but the love that it came wrapped in; my dad's employer who wanted to give, my parents who took the time to take me there and the "collective we" — the children and families that came together to bask in the spirit of loving and giving.

Last week's tragedy in a Newtown, Conn., school let us reflect on the real meaning of Christmas. It is not about things, rather about families coming together, to cry, to mourn and to hug and console each other. As all America and the world saw the images of those parents, many of us instinctively thought of wanting to find our loved ones to hold and to tell them how much we loved them and to tell those parents who lost their children that we love and grieve with them in their moment of agony. It's the human thing. It's the "collective we" that defines us as human beings and what binds us together as a society.

It's moments of tragedy that show the resiliency and strength of the American character pulling together — be it to hug, pray, mourn and share the spirit of love. It's in those instances we instinctively want to reach out, hug and hold on to our loved ones and one another. It's then we realize the things we have in common, how we need each other, and how we reach out with the greatest gift of all, to love and care for each other. A quickly painted wooden sign in Newtown said it all, "Our hearts are broken, but our spirits are strong." It's all about community and the human spirit.

It's these agonizing events that let us realize the meaning of life is not in things, rather our ability to love, to share, to give and to receive love. The celebration of Christmas serves to remind us how short and precious life is and how we need each other. And that may be the greatest gift we can give each other, and in so doing, we could change the world. Why not? Who ever thought the world would change with one miraculous birth?

Maybe this season, as we think about filling the Christmas stocking, we might want to fill them with nuts in the shell, oranges, apples candy canes and love, and lots of it. Things are so transitory; love is timeless, endless and keeps on growing. As we do so, let us pray for those parents who lost a child and still will be hanging a stocking filled with more love than ever before.

A Utah native, John Florez has been on the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, served as former Utah Industrial Commissioner and filled White House appointments, including Deputy Assistant Secretary of Labor and Commission on Hispanic Education. Email him at jdflorez@comcast.net.

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