A month after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the TV trucks have gone, the large makeshift memorials have been taken down and the road past the school is finally open to traffic. Still, there are reminders of the tragedy all over town. Green and white ribbons are tied around mailboxes and hang from doors and trees in honor of Sandy Hook's colors. Banners and hand-painted signs with messages of "Pray for Newtown" and "In Our Hearts Forever" decorate overpasses and front lawns. Images of angels are ubiquitous. In our schools, security protocols are heightened and police officers guard entrances. The house where the shooter and his mother resided sits quietly, a Christmas wreath still hanging, with little evidence of the horror that began there on December 14th.
The residents of Sandy Hook and the rest of Newtown are pulling together in our grief, as many news outlets have reported. And of course, we are still hurting. Our future as a community, and as individuals who have all been traumatized to varying degrees, sometimes feels uncertain. Traumatized school children and parents struggle with their fears. Police officers and other first responders are suffering from what they witnessed that day. I see my own kids grappling with their sadness and inability to make sense of the events that went on in their childhood school. We have a lot of healing to do.
Our thoughts never stray far from the tragedy, and so we talk with each other a lot. We describe our own confusing reactions, comparing notes as we discover that we're not alone in our preoccupation, skittishness, difficulty sleeping or turning off the Internet. We may learn that we share a tendency to dwell on the beautiful faces of the children and teachers whose lives were taken. And we continue to cry, some days more than others. The tears are always close by and they have a habit of showing up with little warning, pricking at the corners of our eyes when we run into each other at after school pick-up or the post office. We exchange hugs and condolences, even with people whose names we can't quite remember.
We also tell stories, myriad personal narratives that people recount to each other. We describe the events as they unfolded for us on December 14th, starting with the automated call to parents that came in at 9:40 a.m. that morning, a female voice calmly stating: "Due to a shooting, as yet unconfirmed, all Newtown schools are in lockdown." After that, accounts vary from dramatic, heart-wrenching scenes in the school parking lot and the fire house to poignant reactions from our children and inspiring moments of grace and strength shown by grieving family members. Most of us watched and read reports in the news and now we offer each other the back stories, filling in details about what happened in the school that day, how the children, families, school staff and first responders are faring now, and what we can do to help.
I find it helpful to know that many people feel like I do and that my friends' children and husbands are responding in similar ways to mine. Many of us second-guess our feelings and reactions. For people whose children survived the shooting, some describe pangs of guilt that accompany their relief and gratitude as they consider all the parents whose arms remain empty and aching for their children. I've sometimes wondered what's wrong with me for being so sad when I did not lose anyone close to me, especially because many others have vastly greater pain and loss with which to grapple. But I understand now that my reaction is pretty universal in our town. In fact, it seems that people all over the country are still shedding tears and hurting along with us, and the messages of support they send remind us of this fact and provide comfort.
In fact, there is plenty of comfort to be found from a great many sources. The massive amounts of gifts, cards and monetary contributions that came pouring into our town proved how much people want to help. Cafés and restaurants offered free food and drinks, paid for by donors. Numerous groups have organized fundraisers or free events for the school children, from sky boxes at a Giants game to concerts with lineups of Broadway stars and popular Christian bands. Prominent figures in politics and sports have paid visits to the town. While school was out for the holidays, our local athletic center offered continual free activities for the Sandy Hook kids to join in together. This is only a sampling of the kindnesses our town has received.
Around town, acts of compassion and generosity are the norm, raising my admiration for the members of my community even higher than before. People humbly put themselves second in order to attend to the needs of others. Every day, homemade dinners are delivered for neighbors, parents pick up each other's kids, and people sit with their grieving friends for as long as they are needed. Much of our polite formality has fallen away as we regularly inquire "How are you today?" and it's clear that we really want to know. Acquaintances quickly evolve into friends and close friends become like family. We have drawn each other closer in our sadness and healing.
It's difficult to anticipate what life will be like here in the coming months and years. The violence of that day and its aftermath requires a unique kind of recovery. It is not something we can absorb into our understanding or eventually move on from. We know we will never be the same.
Many people, including myself, view the awful acts that took place here as an inspiration to create a more peaceful and empathic culture. What happened in Sandy Hook is reverberating all over the country and even the world. It seems that we've reached an end point in our acceptance of violence, as well as the neglect of our attention toward the most disturbed and desperate among us. Perhaps it's never been more obvious that change is needed. The kindness and strength that we have seen within -- and toward -- Newtown this past month is an example of who we can be as a nation. However we decide to proceed toward that goal, we will do so with intent to honor all the innocent and heroic people who lost their lives on a day that many consider the end of the world as we knew it, not just for the people of Newtown but for our entire country.
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