There is a light dusting of snow on the ground as we approach Newtown, Ct. It is our 24th Christmas Day visit to my in-laws. I have some trepidation about this trip. It is at once surreal and draining. I don’t know what to expect as we approach the town from Exit 9 of the interstate. I like driving this way as you pass some lovely houses before you enter the center of town. There are also newer developments, because Newtown is part suburban. There used to be more farms, horse farms and sheep farms. There are still a considerable number of horse farms and houses that have space for their own horses. One of little girls who died wanted a horse. So did my niece. She eventually had one. She still rides today. It is a childhood wish that still can become a reality in Newtown, as it can in rural America.
As we approach the town, it looks very much the same as always. Today, however, there are a smattering of flags at half mast balanced by an equal number at full. There is written on a pink sheet, next to the road “Pray For Newtown”. There are numerous white bag candle holders, equal to the number who died. If you didn’t know the number, you might not give it a second thought.
There is a bend in the road as you turn into Newtown proper. The homes on each side are stately New England. Most became commercial office space years ago. Here again there are some flags and more white bags of candles. What is dominant is the huge flagpole in the center of Newtown. It is sending a message, that is echoed throughout the town. It is at full mast.
There is what at night seems to be a huge black banner with white lettering hung from St. Rose of Lima. What is quoted as we drive by looks to be from John 1:5.: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” I don’t know the exact Biblical version that they quoted, but the message is the same. This is Newtown and Sandy Hook.
Just 9 days before, the Church had a bomb scare that caused an evacuation and the arrival of swat teams. It was about the same time that the Westboro Baptist Church threatened to picket in front of Sandy Hook Elementary, although I don’t know if there was a connection between the two. This “church” has previously picked at the funerals of veterans, AIDs victims, and at least one member posted that the shooter at Newtown was doing God’s work. We actually encountered this “church” posting in front of our and other temples in Brooklyn, although we still don’t know why. From what I heard, there were some motor cycle groups in and around Newtown that upon learning that this “church” might come to town to picket, went to all surrounding motels to advise owners about it and to suggest not renting to them. They were also prepared to protect the school from this “church” if necessary.
The community has been overwhelmed, both good and less so, by all the love and support it has received. Quietly I heard, local law enforcement and other first responders from surrounding towns volunteered to take the Christmas Day shifts of Newtown law enforcement/first responders to give them a day of peace with their families. There are many unsung heroes in Newtown and Sandy Hook, both on that day and afterwards, whose acts have been privately maintained by the community (even when prodded by the media). They are protecting their own.
We did not drive through Sandy Hook. There seemed to be a line of cars, but the traffic was not the reason we did not go through the town on the way to my wife’s parents. I would feel like an interloper. My sister-in-law described the Sandy Hook scene as a circus. Too much love can be unhelpful. I know the long lines at wakes crowded out locals who wanted to offer a more personal good-bye to those who they knew. There are still some make shift memorials outside of Town Hall in Newtown. I have no doubt they will begin to disappear. Newtown will always remember and care for those who have suffered so much, but it is also about renewal.
The classrooms that students from Sandy Hook will find in their new school in neighboring Monroe have been carefully planned. Pictures were taken of the placement of everything on the walls and desks, so that the classroom environment in the new school will mirror what existed before the tragedy. The professionalism of Newtown, Sandy Hook and the State of Connecticut has been remarkable. This is not by accident. The unnatural though practice becomes and seems natural.
There is more work to be done, but it is for us to do this outside of Newtown and Sandy Hook. I will address this in my next blog.
The last thing I see before I leave Newtown on Christmas evening is the constellation Orion near the horizon in the eastern sky. Orion is of course common to see in the sky, so it is not metaphorical. I think Corinthians 13.