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By MICHELLE BURROUGHS
Rantoul Press columnist
In the aftermath of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., many are focused on political and ideological differences about why this happened and how we might avoid similar catastrophes in the future.
While I certainly agree that this is a complex issue that all sides need to discuss, I find myself considering how our collective emotional response to what happened ultimately exemplifies our human similarities.
At the core of who we are as living, breathing, feeling human beings, despite our differences, we really are very much the same.
No matter who we are, we find that we empathize deeply with the parents and families of those lost in Newton. We literally feel their heartbreak, their hopelessness and their utter despair and disillusionment.
We stand in solidarity with them in hopes that somehow our support might lessen their pain, even though we know that it won’t; we genuinely wish that it could. We wish their community peace and healing, knowing that things in their community will never be quite the same again.
Despite the consuming sadness for the despair and suffering of those in Newton, I find myself, in the midst of this holiday season, contemplating all of the blessings of neighborly spirit we have right here in our own little community, which isn’t so different from Newtown.
I am inexplicably thankful that I live in a community that is small enough that I am bound to run into a dozen people I know, especially on the day I opt to go to the store, looking like I just crawled out of bed.
Surrounded by good people
I am overcome with gratitude that I live in a neighborhood where I am surrounded by good, hardworking, down-to-earth people, people who often take the time to carry my garbage can back to the house from the curb before I get home from work.
I’ve often arrived home after a particularly snowy day to find that some kind, anonymous soul has already plowed out my driveway for me or secretly mowed my lawn during the summer.
This summer, two kind souls whom I hardly knew helped me look for my lost cat late one night. One neighbor, in particular, has been known to fix my broken water heater, change my brakes or a flat tire, and fix my faucet or my dryer. The list goes on and on.
I can even recall an elderly nurse who lived in my neighborhood offering her untiring assistance to a man she didn’t know at all when he was quietly suffering through his last days.
We live in a community that though unquestionably diverse, stands united, when push comes to shove. For this, I am grateful and humbly inspired.
Our town is a collage of memories for many of us as well. Many of these memories have come streaming back to me as I have contemplated this concept of closeness in our community, especially in light of the holidays.
Engraved in my mind is a memory of a Christmas Eve in the late 1970s.
My family and I walked across the tracks, up Grove Avenue to midnight Mass. We were bundled up in our best clothes, and though I am certain I have romanticized the memory to a certain extent, I seem to remember a light, fresh layer of snow crunching beneath our feet.
The lights in the houses and buildings around us seemed warm and inviting with their twinkling Christmas trees beaming at us from their windows.
Father Malinowski was at his vibrant, booming, lovable best, and the church was full and glowing, buzzing with adoration and anticipation.
It’s all fixed in my memory forever, just like that, and it forever connects me to this town.
Another of my fondest Christmas memories was a walk that my older brother and I went on one Christmas Eve when he was home from the Navy. We went on a long, snowy walk all around town, just the two of us.
We walked and walked and talked and talked; I can’t even remember what we talked about really, but I remember the silence of the empty, deserted streets and the beautiful, luscious quiet of that soft, white calm.
This, too, is fixed in my eternal memory forever because it was the first adult “heart to heart” that I ever had with my brother.
I got to know my brother better during that Christmas Eve walk than I ever had before. It connected us forever as more than siblings, but as kindred spirits, among the streets of the community that raised us, with our shared affection for our home, the place we had come from and knew, the people whom we cared about and who cared about us.
So — with the festivities and nostalgia of the holidays buzzing all around us and the lingering empathy and pain we feel for another community much like our own — I know that I am not alone in acknowledging that despite our diverse differences, our community shares an affection, a devotion, a gratitude for the familiarity, acceptance and comfort of this place we call home.
Michelle (Heck) Burroughs, a lifelong resident of Rantoul, writes a monthly column for the Rantoul Press.