Typing the letters to Santa found inside this newspaper was a different experience this year.
In the background there was Newtown, CT, a name that will, unfortunately, take a place on a list that includes Columbine, Virginia Tech and Aurora as touchstones of the madness of humans.
A tragedy in a town described as small and tight-knit.
A town described as a place where everybody knew everybody.
A town that was described as a place many people sought for its unique charms not found elsewhere.
A community that sounds an awful lot like Gulf County.
The school and the people described by those who knew them and observed them as heroes, as caring more for their children than themselves, on that ugly Friday, seemed not much different from the folks who lead and teach at the county’s elementary schools.
Most of all, the ages of the victims are represented, with a certain ache, in the letters that fill several pages in this newspaper.
They are letters of innocence; they are letters of heart, honesty and sweetness.
Those letters ask after Santa and Mrs. Claus.
They wonder if Santa has cared for those reindeer, one child skipping right past Rudolph, clearly a favorite, to Comet and Dancer.
There are plenty of bakers among those children, because after Gulf County Santa is going to have issues with take-off.
There are certainly thoughts linked to the consumerism that has become too much a part of the holiday.
The wishes for all sorts of things from a DS, a play station to several requests for real diamonds are there.
But so too is the spirit of what the Christmas season, the holiday season, is through the eyes of a child ages 6 and 7, the same age as so many of those young victims in Newtown.
The wish for Santa to make sure sister gets a toy.
The desire to see Santa thinks of Dad for a new coat or fishing pole and for mom some cleaning “stuff” or new clothes.
The acknowledgement that, no, that had not been good all year, but they hoped to earn a place on Santa’s “nice” list.
There are several letters from children who have recently moved to Florida, to Gulf County.
They provide the new address so that Santa is sure to find them.
And there are those who wonder just how Santa does find their home.
How does he do it all in one night?
How does he take of all those kids around the world?
Above all, maybe, there was also an outpouring of love.
Love for Santa because he is no very, very, very nice.
Love for Mrs. Claus for she too must be awful nice to live in the North Pole with Santa and those elves.
Love for Rudolph and assurance that he would be ready for Christmas Eve.
Not for presents, not for anything that might show up under the tree, but for all they do for children, all that work at the North Pole.
Santa needs to ensure the elves, or as children so young call them elfs, are safe and working hard and being taken care of, some children write.
Santa needs to ensure that Mrs. Claus, Misses Claus, Ms. Claus and even Miss Claws – we type them as we get them and that in part reflects the hearts and minds of ones so young – is also in good health and taking good care of Santa.
And Santa must travel safely. That Christmas Eve night he must take care.
He must keep his reindeer, or raindeer, well fed and there are plenty of youngsters more than willing to help out, whether with carrots or (?) brownies.
That is what we, everybody, lost in Newtown, 20 lives that saw the world through those eyes, with that sort of brain and heart and honesty.
There is no politics in those pages of letters, no disagreements about the things that in contrast to Newtown seem so pointless and so … small.
There is no filter. There is no cynicism, no sense of entitlement – several letter writers spelled it out for Santa, can’t bring me anything, that is okay – no desire to get one over on anybody or anything.
Maybe in this holiday season, that is what we can take away and cherish for if Newtown taught anything it is that life offers no guaranteed expiration date and there is no depth to which we as humans can sink within our minds, hearts and deeds.
We can cherish that we are still here and among us are young minds and hearts that, despite our ability to drown them out, have this idea of the holiday season, of brotherhood and giving to one another of ourselves and faith in humanity as DNA.
We, as parents and grandparents and aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters, can wrap each other and our children a little tighter, a little closer, while keeping the ache and pain in Newtown fresh, determined to have learned from tragedy that cuts through all the nonsense that consumes too many of our lives.
And maybe in those letters we can find that even in the darkest of times, even in the toughest of circumstances, there remains a hope, a light, that can not be extinguished and which we will hope guides all of us throughout the year.