LET’S GO BEYOND HOLIDAY CHARITY

I had planned to write a column fuming about the endless ways that gridlock among Washington politicians stifles the entire nation. (Think fiscal cliff).

But then I turned on the evening news, and something happened that forced a shift.

In recent days, TV outlets have featured stories about the outpouring of generosity flowing toward many Americans who, for various reasons, are caught deep in the throes of trauma, not cheer.

The stories are heartwarming reminders that, yes, these are the holidays – the one time of year when you really do witness the best in the American spirit.

I am ashamed to say that I had nearly forgotten that, just two months ago, the winds of Hurricane Sandy ripped across the East Coast, shredding homes and uprooting lives.

But others remembered. They recalled that many of Sandy’s victims remain stuck in temporary living spaces. They remembered that while some folks in places such as New York, New Jersey and Connecticut were able to return to their wind-battered homes, they are still forced to make do without power or running water.

People across the nation didn’t just remember the plight of Hurricane Sandy survivors. They took action, too.

Some had the goodness of heart to send clothing and provisions to the needy. And because of the consideration of total strangers, who shipped toys from far away places, children in the ravaged areas awakened on Christmas to find gifts that might restore some semblance of normalcy to their lives.

The same bighearted kindness has been showered on the families of the 26 elementary school children and employees massacred recently in Newtown, CT.

Countless caring people have sent gifts and tokens to families of those slain in that beleaguered town.

One news report indicated that, thanks to donations, the victims’ families all have 26 lanterns lit in their front yards in remembrance of the lives lost at the hands of a deranged gunman.

I am sure that the powerful public response to the shooting stems largely from the fact that Adam Lanza, the gunman, committed such unspeakable violence against so many young, innocent children – and so close to Christmastime, at that.

The nature of that madness has set off a national campaign so forceful that it threatens to pierce the once bulletproof veneer of the National Rifle Association and its advocates, who support the use of assault weapons as a Second Amendment right.

I lay no claims to foresee the future, but I will venture this prediction: America’s crazy gun laws will change, and that alteration will not become entangled in the kind of political gridlock we’re experiencing around issues such as the so-called fiscal cliff.

Gun laws will change because the public outcry against assault weapons is so potent that it will pressure politicians to do the right thing for a change, with less regard for party affiliation. The laws will change because of the groundswell of compassion flowing from millions of people whose hearts are broken. There have been a string of mass shootings across America, but for many, this one in particular seemed to mark the proverbial final straw.

When change comes about, we will celebrate it as a reflection of the best in the American spirit, common sense and compassion. There have been too many times in recent years when compassion has seemed limited to holiday charity.

Let’s hope that an enduring sense of conscience and consciousness has been awakened now. Let’s hope that public empathy will extend beyond the people who get TV air time and expands to folks we see around us everyday, but who remain invisible in public policy discussions.

We know who they are: the homeless; the millions of regular people who are overworked and underpaid; blacks, immigrants and members of other groups maligned and beaten down by life and a seemingly uncaring system.

Let’s hope that the national compassion we’re now seeing displayed will sweep right on through the holidays, and build momentum in the coming year.

NOTE: This column was first published in Atlanta Black Star.