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.


  1. Replies
    1. Hi Mark. Thanks for your comment. I'm so rarely here that I apologize for not responding. Also, I so rarely get comments that I don't have the habit of checking. Hope you're doing well!!

  2. Oh, Sally, I just saw this post. What a beautiful, heartfelt tribute. You may not understand how important these supportive sentiments are to those of us here in Newtown, but they are what has helped us move through those first few weeks of numbness and overwhelming grief, and what will help us as we heal as a community. These expressions of love and unity, our common humanity, our mutual love and caring for our children and families is what we all need to build on now. It is the only fitting way to move on from a tragedy of these proportions. Please come visit Newtown whenever you are able and bring along your wonderful family. We are all Newtown.

  3. Thanks, Margo. I will never forget how amazing you were/are, being in the epicenter of grief, yet reaching out and consoling all of us around you. We would love to come back to Newtown. Is it possible to come in a "helpful" way? Do you have any suggestions?