First the grief, then the action

Standing next to friends holding a sign that read "Peace for All, Pray for Newtown," Dan Fisher extended his two fingers in that universal symbol.

For this 18-year-old, who lives a few miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School, it's not the time to talk about weapons, laws or politics. At the moment, to Fisher and others here, gun control, the National Rifle Association and sorting out all the twisted details of this massacre are irrelevant.

"Everybody is hurting," he said last week, standing a few feet from a memorial at the entrance of Newtown High School, the site of the vigil where President Barack Obama spoke. "We need to heal. That's all we have to do."

So many here fear their town is being defined by this horrific event.

They appreciate the outpouring of support, they need it to start the healing process. Prayers, notes and vigils go a long way, he said.

But the constant chatter about gun control, mental health, video games and the other complex political and social issues that are headlining the 24-hour news cycle and pundit class can wait. This past week they were still burying their dead.

I understand the need to seize periods of crisis, but the people in this town deserve a moment to grieve; and so much more. It's on us, as a society, not to forget that in the months and years ahead.

Many fear that if leaders don't act now, they never will. We've had so many innocent people killed and have failed to do anything about our gun laws. Think of the lost opportunities after Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora and others.

But my sense is the tides have shifted - that those who have long been quiet won't again be lulled into apathy.

Maybe it's because so many children were brutally killed - 20 first-graders in all. Or that it's the holidays. Or because we're just fed up of with so much senseless violence.

There's a national dialogue going on now, and I suspect it's because the painful loss of these "beautiful little kids," as Obama called them the day of killings, is being felt by so many across the country.

You got that sense last weekend when thousands of people came to Newtown, pilgrims lighting candles, praying and sharing hugs with friends, loved ones and strangers. Many shed tears.

"The tenderest of us have been hit so hard," Jane Philbrick of nearby Redding said at one of the memorials in town.

The president, speaking at last Sunday's interfaith service, said the people of Newtown "remind us what matters."

He has now called on the nation to act and vowed to use his powers as president to engage the country. "Surely, we can do better than this."

We can't ignore the tough questions, political debates and complexities of this national conversation, but we must first allow ourselves to grieve.

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