About a month ago, there was a video that went so viral it even reached my Luddite-like ears and eyes. A little girl sitting in a car seat en route home from preschool was told by her mother that Mom had eaten all her Halloween candy that day. The little girl's eyes welled, her throat showed signs of several swallows, and after about thirty seconds of incredible self-control, the little girl told her mom it was okay. "Are you mad?" the mother asked. "I'm not mad. I'm just sad," the little girl replied, and offered up a brave and recognizably real grin. The mother kept pushing her for several minutes (what? It's not bad enough you ate the kid's candy and didn't bother to hit Walgreen's to replenish? You have to keep asking over and over if she's mad?), and the little girl repeatedly assured the mother that she wasn't mad at her. "I'm just sad."
Wow. If I remember correctly, the tag line for the video was something like "mature 3-year-old forgives mother." I'll say. I shared it with my children, who were equally impressed with the kid. Not so much the mother, though, not any of us.
Last week I watched another video on my computer. It was an interview with George Hochsprung, the husband of the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School. He was surrounded by four of their five daughters, hands clasped as they talked about their wife, mother, step-mother, recounted the bravery that was ingrained in the woman, leaving them unsurprised that she charged toward her death to defend others. He was mad at first, he said, for a few days. Mad at her. But then when he heard from her co-workers that she had acted to save others, his anger dissipated and he knew his wife had been true to her character. "I'm not mad," he said, "I'm just sad."
And my heart flipped.
I'm not by any means equating the horror of what happened in Connecticut to a bucket of lost candy. But what I am struck by is the courage some people are able to display even when injustice has been dealt them. The candy-tyke was gobsmacked by her mother's admission that she'd behaved selfishly, and the nation was gobsmacked by the horrific actions of a disturbed individual, and this man amongst those most affected. Yet both of them, to their eternal credit and my enduring admiration, were able to look up at a camera through their tears and get past anger to mere sadness.
We talk about characters, character traits, characterization in our writing. This was, in both cases, simply character.
I am awed by the power of some humans to rise above what so many of us would sink under. And as a writer, what I hope to put on the page are words that will hopefully inspire others to even a single degree of how inspired I felt by the courage of these two people, young and old, who can look into the face of unexpected tragedy (large and small) and still find forgiveness for those they love.