When someone says to me, “Where do you live?” And I answer, “Newtown, Connecticut,” there’s usually a shocked silence. Then, the response is “I’m sorry.” Well, I’m not sorry. I’m honored to be a member of my community of compassionate, resilient folks who are still struggling a year after the Sandy Hook shooting to find a way to guide our children safely and wisely into the future.
Most of us who live here have been dreading this one-year anniversary. At 9:30 am on last December 14th, my phone rang, and there was an automated message from the school superintendent telling us that the schools were in lockdown. My heart leaped to my throat, and I ran into our office to tell my husband. Our daughter, our only child, was a junior, and immediately the phone rang again with a friend telling us that she had just heard that there was a shooter in the high school. For a half an hour, we frantically searched the Internet and TV channels looking for more information. Friends and neighbors began coming over to sit with us in front of the television and pace around anxiously talking on their cell phones, desperate to know more. Then, the local newspaper had the first news on their website that the gunman was at Sandy Hook. The horror tumbled forth, with each piece of news worse than the one before.
I stepped outside with my dog to breathe and have some silence. It was a breezy, sunny day, and I thought about how beautiful it was where we live. I had looked long and hard to find this place to raise our child in an environment that was healthy and safe. How could this be happening here? Then, I thought that it could happen anywhere in this country. More important was the realization that we were here and that even though I couldn’t see it right at that moment, there was probably a reason that the Universe had put my family in this place at this moment in time.
In the following days and weeks, it was surreal. Diane Sawyer and Anderson Cooper reporting on the steps of Town Hall. Traffic jams as strangers blocked the streets and brought teddy bears and candles to makeshift memorials. We’d be standing in line to get an egg sandwich at the deli and the girl who works the cash register would shout out, “Someone from Montana is buying all of you breakfast right now!” Crazy threats shut down St. Rose’s church and caused candlelight vigils to be cancelled. Police surrounding the high school like it was an armed camp. Funeral processions that made going to the grocery store an hour long event while I sat in the car with tears running down my face as the hearses passed by. And always, always, the courageous response of my neighbors and the whole town offering love and kindness instead of anger and hate. The principal of the high school emailed the kids almost every day reminding them: “Our collective strength and resilience will serve as an example to the rest of the world. Be strong, Newtown.”
Then, we had to go on. It hasn’t been easy, and I see the emotional scars it left on our children every day. There is a level of tension and suppressed fear and anger that lives just under the surface of day-to-day activities that did not exist here a year ago. Last night, when we learned that a student in Colorado had gone into a high school, attempting to kill a teacher and severely wounding a girl and killing himself, my daughter was so shaken up that I was at a loss of how to explain it to her as I hugged her and she cried.
When a small group of us gathered Thursday night to seek comfort from each other, we realized that beyond the issues of guns and safety in our schools, we have to find a way to show our kids that the answer when they get mad or frustrated is not to find a gun or build a bomb and go out and kill someone. I don’t know yet how we will be able to teach them that lesson, but everyone in this country needs to try. It must become a priority because the reality is that our children are killing each other and themselves, and we can’t keep letting it happen. We all have the power to change this. Please, don’t let it keep happening.