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In honor, in memory, for Christmas: 26 Acts

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image Ornaments and gifts are simply wrapping paper around the real meaning of Christmas. Even in the wake of unimaginable tragedy, Christmas is a time of faith, hope, and compassion. Photo Mitch Traphagen

The idea is for people across the country and around the world to commit 26 acts of kindness in honor of the children and adults who lost their lives on Friday.

By Mitch Traphagen

As the nation and the entire world absorbs the shock of last week’s senseless shooting of 20 young children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, the sheer trauma of the event raises the question, “Why?” Although law enforcement has stated they expect to piece things together to answer how and why this happened, the truth is there is no answer to “Why?” The senseless deaths of so many innocents simply can’t be answered. There can be no rational reason those lives were taken. With no way to rationalize it, many people ask what they can do to help.

Speaking from Newtown on Sunday, President Obama summed it up by saying, “Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Benjamin, Avielle, Allison, God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory. May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in His heavenly place. May He grace those we still have with His holy comfort, and may He bless and watch over this community and the United States of America.”

Numerous relief funds have sprung up accepting donations to support a broad spectrum of needs, from counseling services for the survivors to raising money to help one young family bring their daughter home to Utah for burial.

On the social networking website, Twitter, Ann Curry of NBC News has begun promoting a concept she calls, “26 Acts”. The idea is for people across the country and around the world to commit 26 acts of kindness in honor of the children and adults who lost their lives on Friday. The kindness has already begun.

One woman posted on Twitter that she has volunteered to read to children in a homeless shelter. Others have donated to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund and other funds that have sprung up in the wake of the tragedy to help the families of the victims and the entire community. One man wrote a check to someone he knew that needed money. Another woman filled up a box of food for a local food bank.

“26 Acts” is the sort of movement that can bring forth compassion and a small bit of sense from a senseless tragedy. It is simply people doing good things in the names and memories of innocent children and heroic adults. It is a movement that can help to make the nation worthy of their memories.

You don’t need Twitter or a computer to take part, you don’t even need to spend money — sometimes doing something to help simply involves opening your heart. You can honor those young lives and make a difference in your community and in the world in an infinite number of ways. Just a few ideas follow, but there are so many other ways to help a nation to recover and be worthy.

• Hug your children and loved ones a little longer, a little tighter. Say, “I love you” often. The bittersweet wake of this tragedy at Christmastime serves as a reminder that we need to take care of our families, neighbors and even strangers. Compassion is a salve for many wounds.

• Thank a teacher. The stories are emerging about how the teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School put the lives of their students before their own. Some of the teachers made the ultimate sacrifice, the last full measure of devotion, by giving up their lives so their students would live. Others not only protected their students, but they took every measure to minimize the trauma of the event on their young lives. Teachers everywhere are made from the same cloth. I come from a family of teachers and know with certainty that my brother, his sons, my father and mother, all would have done the same thing: put the lives of their students before their own. That is simply the dedication inherent and in the hearts of those who are called to teach.

• If you are reading this newspaper rather than covering yourself up with it at night or stuffing it into a jacket to stay warm on a cold night, you are blessed. You don’t have to spend money to help those less fortunate. Last week, my wife Michelle volunteered at Metropolitan Ministries in Tampa, distributing clothes to those in need. Many of the people who came in were looking for clothes they could wear to interview for jobs in the hopes of making their lives better, others were there for jackets to stay warm at night. In volunteering, Michelle said that she gained a new sense of appreciation, not only for those in need but also for those who donate. Clothes, however, were in short supply. You can change a small piece of the world simply by going through your closet or volunteering your time. “Seeing that was heartening,” Michelle said of her volunteer experience. “It makes Christmas more special.”

• Offer prayers and good thoughts for the police officers and first responders in Newtown. They will be dealing with the unimaginable scene they encountered for the rest of their lives. Like teachers, law enforcement officers and first responders everywhere are made from the same cloth. Should something unthinkable happen, know that they will put your life ahead of their own. Thank a sheriff deputy, a firefighter or an EMT. Perhaps drop off a card with your words of thanks at a station. Let them know they are supported and appreciated.

• Visit an elderly neighbor or volunteer to visit people in hospitals, care centers and nursing homes. I’ve spent the past week in a nursing home and am now acutely aware of how many beautiful, wonderful elderly people approaching the end of life are crying for simple companionship. Many of them simply would like to hear a voice directed at them, and an ear to hear their words, along with, perhaps, a hand to touch. Just a few minutes of your time, along with a smile, can make an enormous difference in a life. The staff members at nursing homes do everything they can but for many people, perhaps even someone living alone next door, a moment of your compassion means an entire day made happier and brighter.

In Newtown, President Obama continued by saying, “I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief, that our world, too, has been torn apart, that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you.”

And now, as the tears are wiped away, 26 Acts of compassion is a means for turning grief into honor and in the process can change the world for the better. Although the shock of tragedy still lingers, to borrow the words from Michelle, you can make Christmas more special. Merry Christmas.

NBC News journalist Ann Curry may be found on Twitter at twitter.com/AnnCurry

In Memory:
Charlotte Bacon, 6
Daniel Barden, 7
Rachel D’avino, 29
Olivia Engel, 6
Josephine Gay, 7
Dawn Hochsprung, 47
Dylan Hockley, 6
Madeleine Hsu, 6
Catherine Hubbard, 6
Chase Kowalski, 7
Nancy Lanza, 52
Jesse Lewis, 6
Ana Marquez-Greene, 6
James Mattioli, 6
Grace Mcdonnell, 7
Anne Marie Murphy, 52
Emilie Parker, 6
Jack Pinto, 6
Noah Pozner, 6
Caroline Previdi, 6
Jessica Rekos, 6
Avielle Richman, 6
Lauren Rousseau, 30
Mary Sherlach, 56
Victoria Soto, 27
Benjamin Wheeler, 6
Allison Wyatt, 6

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