Love Actually Is All Around

One of our Christmas traditions is watching the movie Love Actually. We watched it on Saturday, the day after the horrible massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. The opening lines of the film struck me more than usual with the news fresh in my mind.

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion… love actually is all around.”

As horrible as the massacre at Sandy Hook was – and make no mistake, nothing is more tragic than the brutal murder of so many young children – tragedy befalls this nation everyday. When a mother loses her infant to SIDS does she grieve any less? When a husband loses his wife to a drunk driver crossing the center line is his world not turned upside down? No, yet these moments are rarely covered in the media and certainly not on a national level. And this isn’t to say that the media shouldn’t have covered Sandy Hook or that they should cover the more “everyday” occurrences of tragedy. News is news because it is novel; something out of the ordinary. But as we watch these tragedies unfold we should be mindful that the novelty which brought their coverage is a reminder that “love actually is all around.” If the world really was filled with hatred and greed instead of love and charity these tragedies would be more commonplace, we’d be desensitized to them, and the media would be covering something else.

So grieve the children of Sandy Hook. But at the same time, and perhaps to a greater extent, celebrate the heroism of people like teacher Victoria Soto and therapist Rachel Davino, who were so full of love for their first grade students that they gave their lives protecting them. Celebrate six-year old Jack Pinto who was, in the words of his family, an “inspiration to all those who knew him.” His family also added that they would not dwell “on the loss but instead on the gift that we were given and will forever cherish in our hearts forever.”

Life is short no matter how long we live and every day should be cherished as a gift. Those days or moments that are extraordinarily good we should celebrate even more. And these moments don’t have to be newsworthy, although perhaps they should be. They can be the smile that lifts someone’s spirits on a dreary day. They can be the latte purchased by the person in front of you at the drive-thru. Many times they even rise to the level of newsworthiness, as did this story about a cop giving a motorist much more than a citation.

We may never truly know all the motives behind the tragedies that befall society but one hypothesis is fame. Even though these monsters often turn the gun on themselves in the end, perhaps realizing the magnitude of their act, it seems some do it for the attention they will receive. A Facebook post originally attributed to Morgan Freeman, despite being a hoax in some sense, nonetheless speaks the truth. The post ends by encouraging readers to “help by forgetting you ever read this man’s name, and remembering the name of at least one victim… You can help by turning off the news.”

I’ll go one further. We should encourage and spread good news, if we choose to make famous not the cowards hiding behind an arsenal of guns but the heroes that step in front of them perhaps our young people will grow up aspiring to this kind of fame instead. And I’ll say it, we could certainly benefit from some more solid morality in society. As a friend quipped, “some people ask how God could allow something so tragic to happen in a grade school; perhaps it is because God is no longer allowed in schools.”

The Loss of Spirituality

In a society constantly bombarded by images of sex, fame, fortune and violence it can be very easy for someone to lose sight of the things that really matter in life; the things that bring about true, eternal happiness.

In youth we are cavalier, impressionable, possibly a bit shallow and, let’s face it, stupid. We are prone to doing things that make us cool or popular; things that give us an oftentimes unhealthy rush. It is a childish existence we lead during our adolescent lives and those who fail to break free of these activities are prone to a “Peter Pan” syndrome, one much worse than that of the past. The symptoms of today’s post-collegiate child are no longer just innocent horseplay and a propensity to find a woman to do his laundry or a man to pay her bills. They’re much worse now with the introduction of shows like South Park and celebs like Britney Spears, which are targeted at prepubescent boys and girls but are better designed for a mature audience. With these stimuli, our youth, left unchecked, become complacent to sex. It becomes a topic thrown around as loosely as yesterday’s baseball scores.

And then, of course, there is the violence. Both TV and print media, driven by the almighty dollar, market this atrocious “news” as part of the modern sensationalist zeitgeist plaguing our society. But they are not the worst, for in all fairness, they are only broadcasting what others have created. It is the creation of a new stream of Reality TV, combined with other, now commonplace, entertainment like WWF and Hollywood blockbusters featuring ruthless terrorism and serial murder.

All of this then relates to fortune. Sex and violence sells and the profits beget nothing more than sex, violence and fame. The final piece to this puzzle of non-spirituality is the new ambiguity created by things like automatic bill paying, chatrooms and telecommuting. We shut ourselves in our private spaces and hardly venture out for the light of day, leaving us with a false sense of accountability for our actions. We sit in front of our computers and TV screens, entertaining fantasies and visions of grandeur.

So what is our escape? How do we remove ourselves from this downward spiral of debauchery and self indulgence? We break the mold of post-modern artificiality and make a return to a more natural way of life and traditional values. We begin anew, dedicated to the restoration of truth, peace and enlightenment.

In order to make a real effort in reaching this goal we must educate our youth not just in the traditional way but also in a the subjects of values and spirituality. It means taking interest in them as people and showing, too, that we are people. It means turning off the TV and the computer, the idle chatter and the empty promises. Love can not be found in a box and caring can not be found from a modem. Spirituality and the way to happiness can really only be found in the simple things in life, those that carry no price tags. The true happiness that comes from spirituality comes from smelling a rose, beholding a sunset, hearing the laughter of a child or feeling the warmth of someone who loves you and whom you love, truly, as well. These things may scream cliché but they are the foundations of a good life for years to come. And even if we can’t rid ourselves of many of the modern conveniences that make our lives easier and sometimes more enjoyable in certain ways, we should at least pause from time to time and reflect on what these current habits lead us toward.