Headlines in several newspapers nationwide this weekend lamented 2012 as the year of mass shootings. They were referring, of course, to the brutal murders of children and staff at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn., two weeks ago and to the late-night massacre in July at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater during a showing of the new Batman movie, "The Dark Knight Rises."
Both events were unthinkable and horrifying and they will without a doubt continue to drive discussion and perhaps policies regarding mental health and gun control. Some tragedies hurt so much they literally take your breath away.
But I find myself resisting the notion that deranged acts committed by a couple of individuals define us as a country or summarize 2012. And I loathe the fact that the horror two people wrought could be allowed to overshadow all the good that occurred.
I have no urge to minimize the events or the pain that has been inflicted not only on those directly involved, but on the rest of us, as well. It just seems to me we choose whether we step into a new year with hope and determination to embrace and improve the future, or with leaden steps and a sense of defeat. Each one of us has the opportunity to make things better in some way, if we choose to do so.
It's a fabulous fact that in droves we do choose positive action. Consider some of the goodness that also defined 2012.
In its first nine months, the year brought life-giving organ transplants to 21,132 people with dire medical need. That statistic is on the top of my mind as my husband is alive because of organ donation and that's one way I will remember 2012. In a time of deep sorrow, a family I didn't know saved my family. It's also a fact that far more people wait than receive that gift.
The numbers aren't yet in for the entire year, but 2012 was also on track to outpace 2011 in terms of the number of volunteers who gave time and talent to various organizations. In 2011, according to Volunteering and Civic Life in America, more than 64 million Americans volunteered through an organization. It was a five-year high, the end result nearly 8 billion hours.
Besides that, most Americans helped their neighbors in some way and the agency said more than a third "actively participated in a civic, religious or school group." As individuals, we served the poor, the elderly and school children in huge numbers.
When more than 6 million U.S. families were forced to turn to an emergency food pantry at least once during the year, they found food there only because organizations and individuals donated. The shelves don't stock themselves; someone has to give and, fortunately, it happened again and again all over the country, according to Feeding America.
While the government and individual agencies keep track of statistics for many programs, no one counted the acts of kindness and charity committed on an individual basis by those who simply knew someone with a need and tried to meet it: people who helped families that would otherwise do without at Christmas time, who taught someone to read or manned a desk at the local homeless shelter or gathered books for an informal rural library. No one gathered statistics on how many people cleared their neighbor's sidewalk when they shoveled their own after a snowstorm or picked up a few items at the store for a homebound elderly neighbor when they did their own shopping.
The heart is a muscle that needs exercise. Perhaps in 2013 we can all pick up the pace.
Deseret News staff writer Lois M. Collins may be reached by email at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at loisco.