A friend from California called to say, "I know you are far from the actual carnage, but its part of who you are. Hope you are OK". I am not OK. I am struggling. The initial façade of 'keep calm and carry on', torn away when I saw the face of a six-year-old niece of a classmate of mine at Sandy Hook Elementary School, who was killed there, nearly 25 years after her uncle and I walked those halls.
It's a small town. Family names are familiar. A religious town, churches of all faiths and creeds nestled amongst neighborhoods. The world is seeing first-hand the quaint beauty of a New England township, which up until a few days ago I described as "near Danbury" and full of lots of trees and football. But, to see Matt Lauer and Soledad O'Brien live broadcasting from the field I learned to play soccer on, not highlighting Newtown's proud tradition of athletics and achievement, but instead sharing with the world the news that our home has become home to a massacre of such heinous and epic proportions that the president is going to have to come to help us heal. Newtown has now taken on a new meaning.
Through text messages, phone calls, Facebook, Twitter, connecting with friends and family, we are all trying to stay close to the ones who know Newtown before Dec. 14. But we are forced to communicate in cliché terms: bizarre, surreal, heartbroken, sick; foreign emotions now super-imposed on the comforting memories of where one comes from. A Norman Rockwell painting that someone poured black paint on. Bullets piercing foundational childhood memories. Bullets piercing children.
These recent events will not define Sandy Hook Elementary School. There are too many of us whose lives over generations have been positively shaped by that place. In those halls Mr. Winsett taught us how to peel an orange ("the trick is to kneed it in your hands until its soft as your grandmother's pin cushion"). Mr. Ballerini taught me a love for fiction and history, and regularly read to us fourth grade classics, like My Brother Sam Is Dead and The Indian In The Cupboard. Mr. Stockwell who broke the realistic news to us that we were probably not destined to play in the Major Leagues, and so we better keep doing our homework until we knew for sure. It's where we learned to press autumn leaves in wax paper, hold the door for the person coming in after you, and write in antiquated cursive.
We played Little League baseball and football at recess, pretending we had already made it to the big lights of Bruce Jenner Stadium at Newtown High School, on the fields that are now riddled with images of men with guns and CNN graphics that newscasters draw circles and lines on top of, as if squiggly lines will help us make sense of the senseless deaths of children.
So, aside from gut-wrenching images of my hometown torn apart, we are forced to sit by and watch pundits and politicians question whether or not the cost of taking on the NRA and the assault weapons lobby is too great? The cost of a proactive examination of mental health care for our young men out of reach? Jason Holmes, Jared Loughner, Dylan Klebold, Eric Harris, Seung-Hui Cho, and now Adam Lanza. We know the demographic that needs further attention. We all know that no one needs access to a weapon that can hold a magazine with more than 10 bullets in it.
Perhaps, if you could feel the cost of cable news graphics superimposed on some of your fondest early memories, any reasonable person, who loves children and learning and respects life and love, would care less about the fanatic concerns of the gun lobby or budget pressures that prevent the provision of mental health care for our young men. And we could rally as a nation to choose a different path. Perhaps we can take inspiration for how to come together from our little town that is probably more Republican than Democrat in a historically blue state, that is not pointing fingers or passing out blame, but instead is embracing brotherly love in December more fiercely than ever. It's futile to imagine that any act, any comfort, will ever be able to fill the void for the families living through this horror. The least that lawmakers and pundits can do is to take action to ensure that this is the last gun massacre we as a country must face. Newtown, and all those connected to it, will forever carry this burden. But perhaps the weight will be slightly lessened by the comfort of real action.