McCann thanked him for saying that. He was no psychologist, he said, but he believed it was necessary to acknowledge how powerful despair can be. The question was how to get to a place beyond that. “You have to beat the cynics at their own game,” he said, echoing, consciously or not, George Mitchell on that day in Belfast. There was nothing the least bit preachy in his tone. “I’m not interested in blind optimism, but I’m very interested in optimism that is hard-won, that takes on darkness and then says, ‘This is not enough.’ But it takes time, more time than we can sometimes imagine, to get there. And sometimes we don’t.” He couldn’t fathom what they were going through, he said, but he knew that the struggle against cynicism would be the challenge for them, as it is for anyone, for the rest of their lives.

Colum McCann’s Radical Empathy by Joel Lovell, on the author’s visit to Sandy Hook survivors