On Christmas Day, 1864, Henry Longfellow wrote a poem that would later become one of today's most beloved carols. There is a story associated with this poem, as well as emotion, and heartache.
A few years earlier, his wife Fanny had died in a freak fire accident in their Massachusetts home. In an effort to save her, Henry was badly burned on his hands and face. Stricken with grief, he did not attend her funeral, which was on their 18th wedding anniversary. After this point, Longfellow grew out his characteristic full beard in order to hide his scars and also because it became too painful to shave. A year following his wife's death he wrote in his journal: "'A merry Christmas' say the children, but that is no more for me."
The next year, he received word that his son Charles, a lieutenant in the Union army, was severely injured in the Battle of the Potomac. It was the Civil War and despair enveloped the country in a hopeless blanket. With the outbreak of war, Fanny's death, and now Charles' wounded condition, Longfellow writes, "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.'"
On this year, December 14th, America suffered from yet another school shooting. But instead of a high school or a college being targeted, it was an elementary school. Twenty-six were killed that day, twenty of them being children. It has been said that it was the worst shooting since the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado.
On September 11, 2001, two planes crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, killing hundreds of people. There have been others: insensible acts of violence and hate that need not be mentioned. It is easy to allow the miseries of the world to wash over us as we sit watching the evening news. It is so much harder to notice the good, the sometimes seemingly insignificant acts of kindness.
Despite the moments of tragedy, there have been stories to lift even the most despondent of spirits. The fireman stopping to give an escaping man a bottle of water during 9/11 for example, show us and the world that despite the evils going on, there is still good. Even though Christmas is two days past, the words of Longfellow's poem echo through my mind. "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.'"
Yes, there is still good in this world. And it is worth fighting for. The bells that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow heard before writing his famous poem echoed hope and love; as if to tell the forgotten stories of optimism and selfless acts that persist throughout humanity, despite the tumult of this world. Longfellow's message is one that we all need. And quite frankly, we need it a lot. In my heart I know that good has not passed from this world. For I see evidence of that- every single day.
In light of this holiday season, may we recognize and appreciate the acts of kindness and generosity that surrounds us. May we hug each other a little tighter and smile a little more; knowing that, through it all, good always emerges victorious.