These past few months have been difficult ones for the St. Louis region. On Christmas morning I find myself reflecting on that, as well as the gifts I personally have, but also my thoughts and prayers for the future for our region.

While there are indeed many people in the St. Louis region who have been hurting these past few months -- from the victims of the violence, to law enforcement officials, to concerned citizens -- that very visible pain and suffering can often mask the real story.

Perhaps it is just because this is the day to feel this way, but I am ever an optimist.  Yes, those of you who know me know I can by cynical and blunt as well, and realistic.  But about St. Louis, I remain optimistic, especially now.

I have found that when I talk to people about St. Louis in recent months they express shock at the events, and wonder if the whole city is in turmoil. Pictures on TV and in the press often misleads people about crisis in any place because what happens in just a moment in time or space can seem to be engulfing an entire area, whether it be a tornado, a hurricane, and act of violence, a riot, or anything big event.

The truth is that the protests in St. Louis have been confined to very small areas, and the very rare acts of violence (which do not characterize the vast majority of the protests) are also confined to a few areas.  It is also my firm view that the peaceful, nonviolent protests have been entirely appropriate and necessary to bring to light important issues facing our region.

It is also true that for every relatively rare act of lawlessness there have been multiple acts of kindness shown to others, whether it be a thank you said to law enforcement official, a contribution made to a local agency, a kind note sent to others, a helping hand paid to a business that has suffered losses--many countless unsung gestures.

Perhaps more important I am optimistic because the recent events in St. Louis (and beyond) have brought attention to issues that have been lying just beneath the surface in our region, and across the U.S. for quite some time.  And we are now having a dialogue about these issues, openly, and frankly, like I have not seen in the over two decades I have lived in the region.  There has already been some miniscule progress made, though many more changes need to be made.

I do believe this dialogue will continue, because good people want it to continue, and because it simply must.

I am reminded this morning of the great poem Robert F. Kennedy cited on the day that my hero Martin Luther King Jr. was killed, a poem by Aeschylus. As RFK recited that night:

"Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget
falls drop by drop upon the heart,
until, in our own despair,
against our will,
comes wisdom
through the awful grace of God."

If the memories of those who have fallen across the country -- and the hard work of those who have toiled to keep us safe -- are to mean anything, we must all strive to bind these wounds using all the tools we can.