It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. Last Friday, I had just come in from my morning barn chores when at 9:30 the phone rang. It was the school superintendent, an automated message saying there was a lockdown at all schools. I told my husband, and the phone rang again. It was a neighbor saying the rumor that there was a shooter at the high school. My heart started pounding, and for a half an hour, we frantically searched the Internet and TV to find some more information. Then, the news began to rush in, the reality of a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, a few miles from the high school. We could hear sirens and helicopters. Friends began calling, crying, showing up at our house to stare mesmerized at the television while the horror was revealed.
At one point, I had to take the dog outside and I stood in the sunshine, breathing fresh air and noticing, almost as if for the first time, how beautiful it is here. I looked all over the East Coast to find a safe community with good schools when we moved here eight years ago. Now, I reflected that this hideous violence was a random act, and while it could have happened anywhere, it happened here in this place where we are. I wondered what the meaning of it would be for us, my daughter who is 17, my husband and myself. I also knew that it was too soon to understand why we were about to be a part of something so tragic, but that eventually, it would have a meaning and would be something that changed our lives.
It’s impossible to describe the last week, so I will only focus on the moments of kindness and compassion that we have experienced. My daughter’s teachers and the school staff have been so brave and sensitive and caring, especially as the kids went back to school on Tuesday. One great source of comfort for my child was the K9 Comfort therapy dogs that were here to cuddle and distract everyone if they needed a moment to compose themselves and find strength. My daughter has provided solace to her friends and classmates as they struggle to overcome their fears and now, as they attend wakes and funerals, and I am so proud of her. People here are wide open, vulnerable and so loving.
At every turn, there is a reminder of what happened. Little shrines and handmade signs dot the country roads. On the main highway, there had been a recent construction project and the big lighted signs that once said “Roadwork ahead” now say, “God bless our angels. Thanks to our heroes.” It’s been hard to get around town with the media and the visitors from all over the country. There were seven camera crews hovering around the high school when I picked up my daughter on Tuesday afternoon. If I drive to the grocery store, I wait and cry as the funeral processions pass by. When I go to nearby towns, total strangers see the little sticker with the rooster that is our town mascot on my car, and they stop me to give me hugs and offer condolences. I am so proud tell people that I live here.
We struggle to decorate the tree, send the presents to our family in California, try to act like everything is fine and normal when we visit my mom at the nursing home. This morning, I got up at 5 am and made a huge casserole dish of bbq turkey meatballs for a teacher appreciation luncheon being held at school. We carry on, and each day, receive an email update from the high school principal that begins and ends with these words:
Our collective strength and resilience will serve as an example to the rest of the world. Be strong, Newtown.