In the days after the nation's worst mass shooting in 2007, mourners gathered in vigils across the country to grieve the 32 dead and 17 wounded at a massacre at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va.
Although Christmas had long passed, the brokenhearted gathered at a Congregational Church in Connecticut held lighted candles and sang "Silent Night," the peaceful carol from the 19th century about the birth of Jesus.
At vigils for the 20 children and six adult victims in last week's gun massacre at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., misty-eyed mourners repeatedly sang "Silent Night," taking comfort in its refrain about sleeping "in heavenly peace."
In times of terrible grief, so often it's music that binds people together and provides solace to their deepest hurts in a way that conversations, cards and casseroles can't when emotions are raw. "Silent Night" is a slow, joyful carol with a soothing melody and words of "love's pure light" and "redeeming grace."
It's a song that grieving Christians and others, particularly victims of violence, turn to year-around in times of tragedy. It's no wonder that "Saturday Night Live," which usually opens with a comedy sketch, abandoned that format last weekend and instead tapped a children's choir to sing the carol.
In 1999, months after a shooting massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., left 12 students and a teacher dead, and 26 others wounded, several parents of the victims returned to the school for the first time for a memorial holiday concert.
Three days earlier, the parents' hearts had been ripped open by the release of hateful videos made by the two students who had slaughtered their loved ones. During the concert, tears fell as "Silent Night" was sung, and some said the carol brought consolation like no other that day.
When my sister was murdered 25 years ago, I didn't personally know another family affected by gun violence. Today, I know more than I can count. In the aftermath of that horrible February day, my mother hummed and sang that tranquil carol repeatedly. It was also the song we sang to her on her deathbed six years ago.
And so in Newtown, the carol about a child's miraculous birth gives voice to the grief and hope of parents mourning their children's horrific deaths. Sleep in heavenly peace, young ones. Sleep in heavenly peace.
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Susan Hogan is a Star Tribune editorial writer.