12/13/2013 12:06 pm ET Updated Feb 12, 2014

Lighthousing: Making Newtown a New Town

There is a mysterious beauty to scars.

They are echoes of the magic of healing.

That magic allows the pain to heal, the wound to heal, but the scar is a lingering whisper of what caused the wound... so that it won't happen again.

No deep wound heals without a trace. Scars are like little maps that show us where we've been, and how to move forward more wisely.

Some anniversaries you don't want to celebrate. Certainly, "celebrate" is a far cry from the right word to frame what happened at the Sandy Hook school on December 14, 2012. But as David Wheeler said at a September street-naming ceremony for his son, near what would have been Ben's seventh birthday, we have to "keep talking about it."

Sitting at Ben Wheeler's funeral, I remember feeling, in me, and all around the room, the deep, fresh wound. No one knew what to do, we all just wanted to help--help sooth, help heal, help find hope.

The Sandy Hook/Newtown community itself has taken extraordinary measures to heal this wound. The parents, loved ones, and relatives, have shown us a new way to carve a path out of grief.

Love. "We choose love," is the Sandy Hook motto, and the Sandy Hook Promise "is to honor all victims of gun violence by turning our tragedy into a moment of transformation."

Finding the good.
Part of that transformation needs to be for the town itself: In a clip on The Rachel Maddow Show, Newtown First Selectwoman Pat Llodra said, "... please give us a chance to grow into that really happy, healthy place that loves children and families ... we need you to help us get there...."

To that end, many positive initiatives have emerged from this path of healing. In addition to the ones Maddow mentions, there is The Avielle Foundation, created by the little girl's parents Jeremy Richman and Jenn Hensel, researchers determined to understand brain health, with the goal being to help those with violent tendencies before they commit a heinous act.
, a website created by the 26 families, serves as an information portal where they can get messages from anyone (it is strictly moderated), offer information about each victim, and highlight the positive measure for change each family supports. Significantly though, it is a product of their own collaborative efforts to support and protect each other, free from ideology and outside influence, perhaps unprecedented after an event such as this.

Ben's parents, Francine and David Wheeler, have thankfully been able to raise their lovely voices in song for Newtown's sake; Francine was the first person to speak in President Obama's stead on his weekly address, and the couple's moving appearance on Bill Moyers inspired Oprah Winfrey to invite them on Super Soul Sunday. David Wheeler told me, "We can't say enough to thank the entire country -- indeed the world -- for their love, support and keenly felt care of us; we will spend the rest of our lives balancing our gratitude and our grief, ever-hopeful that the former will only grow as the latter wanes and the scales are permanently tipped in the direction of love. And not just our scales; the scales of the world."

But as Lisa Belkin's sensitive and comprehensive article on the anniversary points out, it is "A year in which everything has changed, but not nearly enough."

What still needs to happen.
The Daily Beast just reported that there is a school shooting Every Two Weeks. It boggles the mind, and in light of Sandy Hook, exponentially so.
And has a horrifying graphic of the more than 11,000 shooting deaths since December 14, 2012.

The Manchin-Toomey bill to expand background checks for gun purchases failed in the Senate mere months after the massacre (although some states have taken individual measures).

When I asked David to "lighthouse" where we are on the path toward healing, he reflected on the centerpoint; it has all "come at such an unbelievably high price; we would give and do anything to have our hearts beating whole in our chests again, and we know we never will...

"So much has to happen: From the small technical details to the largest societal shifts. We need to find a way to help people who are so completely scared of the world they feel they need to arm themselves to the teeth. ... We have to find a way to reach the part of them that isn't willing to sacrifice their own children or the people they love to an unreasonable idolatry of the most lethal consumer product our species has ever produced."

The Wheeler's initiative, Ben's Lighthouse, was actually started by Newtown resident Rick Haylon, "who was moved to create the organization almost immediately after the shooting," David Wheeler says. "He met with Pastor Kathie Adams-Shepherd of Trinity Episcopal Church (where Ben was the most disruptive member) and they discussed ...what its vision would be...." Programs designed to help the children of Newtown and surrounding areas deal with the repercussions of this tragedy. "They asked if they could honor Ben with the name of the charity and we were, of course, humbled and lifted up by that request. It was easy to say yes."


It's a good time to claim this term for an apt usage. Lighthouses shine out during a storm to help navigate you through choppy waters, or cut through the pitch black to show you the way. But it's not a steady beam. You have to travel a little way on your own. And just when you lose sight of where you're going, a vivid light pierces the darkness, reilluminating, sharpening your focus, guiding you away from the shoals. Like scars, lighthouses are intermittent reminders that there is a safer path. Newtown will always be our lighthouse.