Sunday, December 23, 2012

Dear Newtown

To the people of Newtown,

Yesterday I had the privilege of joining runners from Roxbury who came together at the suggestion of Brian Vanderheiden to visit your town for a brief moment and pay our respects. He also wished to raise money from the run to benefit the Sandy Hook Elementary School Fund.

Many of us are confused about how we can help you. We have been asked to contribute money to a number of organizations working with outreach. We have been asked to make snowflakes for the school so the sweet and amazing children torn up by what happened in their school can return to a winter wonderland. (By the way, there will not be enough trees in the world to supply the outpouring of snowflakes coming your way.) 

These are concrete ways you have given us to show our love and support to you, Newtown. Thank you.

And I’m so sorry.

As you know, those of us not living in your beautiful town torn up by this horrific violence and left in its wake with impenetrable grief are so desperate to show our love and support. We understand you’ve been deluged by the media that has, too often, seen your town as more of an opportunistic story line than a town filled with real people experiencing real sorrow. The last thing anyone wants to do is contribute to your pain that has now come in the form of traffic frustration and an overflow of teddy bears now polluting your area (over 100,00 teddy bears arriving to a town of less than 30,000 people). We have read Sandy Scheibel Schill’s plea on Patch to please help by staying away. I think we can all relate to your need for privacy and quiet during this most unimaginably painful time.

Understanding that need, when Roxbury Races began organizing a memorial run into Newtown to quietly pay our respects, I balked. A number of us here in West Hartford wrestled with the invasive aspect of coming to your town. Some thought it might provide an uplifting moment for all of you. Others felt it inappropriate. Potentially, even our feelings about how to help your town could become divisive and the opposite of helpful.

After Newtown officials approved the journey and after talking with friends in Newtown, I decided to join the Roxbury runners who assured me our imprint would be insignificant, but the gesture very positive. We were instructed to park out of town and to enter only a small area very quietly. Thankfully, our runners carried little more than their racing and aching hearts into your town and I say thankfully because when I arrived at the memorial in the center of Sandy Hook, I was horrified.

I stood before the piles of cards and flowers and stuffed animals and notes – some inappropriately political – and my gut reaction was to flee. As we crossed the street towards the memorial as a group, we immediately clogged the four-way intersection where the state trooper stood repeating himself, “Please move to the side. Traffic needs to come through. Please move to the side.”

Standing with my daughter, I held her hand and cried. How unfair and brutal to have people streaming into your town, wanting to “do something” and then showing up with messages of their own pain, their own struggle with what has happened to your town. For a moment, I was ashamed for having contributed to this ongoing frustration. I thought about the over $5,000 Brian had received in donations,  which ameliorated my feelings of helplessness, but money cannot bring your loved ones back.

I looked across the street, desperate to become invisible at that moment, and saw my husband waving me back out of town, “Let’s go!” he yelled. “It’s not right that we’re here.”

I pulled my daughter’s hand and, without strolling by the hordes of sentiments in the forms of broken-stemmed flowers and teddy bears muddied by time and weather, we left the scene and met our friends, John and Margo, in the Demitasse Café. There, I was immediately struck by the generosity of the restaurant owners who insisted on giving us our coffees free of charge, apparently only charging the media. It felt counter-intuitive and, actually, wrong to have you, Newtown, treating ME to coffee when I was there for you. All that did was reinforce in me this sense that your town is that special.

After sitting with John and Margo, I felt blessed to have come to your town even for a moment. You are special, Newtown. I heard the story about how during Friday’s moment of silence, 28 – not 26 – bells tolled throughout the town. 

This made me cry because it is inspiring to see how a town responds to such tragedy. You inspire me every day. The unthinkable has happened in your town and you are moving through it with grace. 

We are all waking up each morning, still, with that perpetual ache in our hearts knowing it is but a speck compared to the enormous pain you are walking around with. In spite of that, you are not only walking around, but showing the world your generosity and spirit.

You are inspiring all of us with your strength, Newtown.

I only met John and Margo for the first time yesterday, although we’ve been “friends” for a while. I will never forget being in your town and hugging two of your loving townspeople who took the time to lift me from the pain you're all suffering. That seems to be who you are, Newtown. 

I am here for you. I will knit scarves and cut snowflakes and pray. And I will stay away until I am invited back in a helpful way.

Our hearts are bound forever.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Finding the Light in Dark Times

Just a day ago, I was staring up at the sky in the middle of the night, hoping to see a shooting star during the Geminides meteor shower. As if the sky held some kind of power to lift me from the quagmire of my everyday. As if that shooting star could pull me from the doldrums and into Life’s Mystery that is magical and open to possibility. I stared and didn’t see one. Twice, I sat out on my deck in the middle of the dark night and waited. Nothing.

And then when I least expected it, on a run with friends, a star fell right in front of us and we all screamed with excitement. It was a joyous moment. A gift.

That was about 4 hours before I would read about the Newtown shooting. I contemplated the word “shooting” and felt sad and ashamed by the folly of my quest to see a "shooting" star. Such a tragic turn of events darkened everything and even the stars felt silly and lost their light.

Today I am wrestling with the concept of darkness all over again. How could something like this happen? No one’s mind can wrap around such a senseless act of violence perpetrated against our most innocent. Debilitated by sadness and rage, I am scouring my soul for some light. Instead, I sit in the wake of the wreckage of one man’s insane moment and feel only the pain of the families who lost loved ones and just cry and cry.

I suppose in these dark moments, I still look for the stars that fall unexpectedly out of the sky.

For me, the stars are the people and their stories. In dark times like this, I cling to stories of people helping other people and suppose that it is here where I find that flicker of light.  

It is the teacher heroically protecting and loving her students, kissing them and telling each one that she loved them, fearing those would be the last words they heard. The light is the state trooper, my brother-in-law, who was a first responder who helped the survivors and heroically helped young children exit the school. The light is friends hugging other friends and opening up their hearts, crying with honesty, pretense gone forever. The light is the awe I feel reading Facebook messages back and forth from a couple in Newtown to their friends in Uganda. This couple gives so much of their time helping people in a country torn up by violence and war. On this day, the Ugandan friends are sending heaven prayers for their Newtown friends torn up by violence.

          Okello Sheikh We in uganda we appreciate ur effort towords the sitation stil we are togather with u in prayer
Margo Deselin Woodall Thank you, Okello Sheikh. You know more than most people in the world what this kind of suffering is like. We appreciate your thoughts and prayers.

The light is my children asking how we can help the Newtown families. It is the witnessing of people organizing community events so that we can do what comes most naturally for us during these dark times – gather and hold each other up with a hope we can’t see, but collectively desire desperately. 

So maybe I am staring up again at a dark sky.  

And maybe that unexpected light is the human spirit.

Let’s keep that flicker alive for the sake of our Newtown friends.