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Finding comfort in children’s faith

By Brian Knox | Published Wednesday, December 19, 2012

At the end of a weekend dominated by images and words of unbelievable horror, I was able to escape to a fantasy world Sunday afternoon.

I went to see the movie “Rise of the Guardians” with my wife and two children. The story involves a group of beings beloved by children – Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Sandman and Jack Frost.

These “guardians” unite in an attempt to defeat Pitch (a.k.a. the Boogeyman). Pitch fills children’s heads with nightmares and does his best to shake their belief in the guardians.

Brian Knox

Brian Knox

I spent most of last week reading the work of local third graders who responded to the Messenger’s request for essays for the Holiday Greetings section in today’s newspaper. Most of the questions have to do with Santa (such as “Who are Santa’s neighbors?” and “How does Santa know if you’ve been naughty or nice?” or “Where does Santa go on vacation?”)

Judging by the responses, I can safely say that at least 90 percent of local third graders have seen “Rise of the Guardians.” Some answered the question about Santa’s neighbors with Jack Frost, the Tooth Fairy, Sandman and the Easter Bunny.

But while many simply repeated plot points from the movie, most came up with wonderfully creative answers. The childlike wonder of Christmas shone through in the beautiful, albeit often misspelled, words. There is an innocence about these letters that reveals the awesome faith of a child.

When I wasn’t reading the letters and admiring the accompanying artwork, I was working on stories about the latest bomb threat at Decatur High School. The person or people responsible for these threats were the same age as these wonder-filled children just a few years ago.

“What happened?” I wondered.

And then Friday came.

While the bomb threats at DHS have turned out to be hoaxes, Friday’s school shooting in Connecticut brought us back to reality. Twenty students, most of them close in age to the students who wrote our holiday essays, were killed along with six staff members, including the principal.

“Why did this happen?” we all continue to wonder.

We may never know the answer.

As a journalist, you develop a way of coping with tragic stories. You can’t become too emotionally involved. But I’ve had a hard time keeping the emotion out of this story, perhaps because I have a daughter who is nearly the same age as those who were killed Friday. I cannot imagine the pain those parents must be feeling.

As parents, we want to protect our children, to be those “guardians” who watch over them and reasssure them there is nothing to be afraid of.

Near the end of the movie, when it looks like all hope is lost for our heroes, one solitary child continues to believe in the unseen. When faced with the Boogeyman, he says, “I believe in you, but I’m not afraid of you.”

You can debate the causes of such unthinkable crimes, and we should do anything we can to prevent them from happening. But we don’t have to live in fear.

I’m not here to try and prove the existence of such mythological creatures as Santa Claus (that topic’s been covered), but we can learn something from the faith of these children who write to him.

We all need to believe in the goodness of our fellow man. Many find the answer in our belief in a higher power, and the faith that goodness will always overcome evil.

It may be hard right now for those close to the children and educators who died last Friday to see the goodness in the world. They will have to put their faith in things unseen. When their world is filled with darkness, they must believe the light will shine once more.

At the end of “The Guardians” the children overcome their fear of the Boogeyman, rendering him powerless. Likewise, we must not let our fear and sorrow overtake us.

We will continue to believe, and sadly, to be reminded that there is evil in the world.

But we don’t have to let the evil control us.

Christians see the advent season and Christmas as a time of hope and a promise of better times ahead. I pray that those affected by this senseless tragedy can cling to that promise – and look for comfort in the simple faith of children.

Brian Knox is the Messenger’s special project manager.

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