Reflections on Newtown, five years later

 

I love Newtown. I love the people. I love the landscape. I love the annual Labor Day parade. I love it more now, having watched the town wrestle over the unanswerable question of what to be in the wake of unimaginable tragedy.

Newtown is different than it was before the events of Dec. 14, 2012. Of course it is. No place could ever recover from that cataclysm — 20 first graders and six educators disappearing from the earth in the matter of five life-shattering minutes. But there is true beauty in how this small town in western Connecticut has responded and rebounded. Today, as America marks five years since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, we should celebrate the miracles, big and small, of the last half decade.

Miracles like those performed by the numerous charitable organizations started by the parents of the Sandy Hook victims. Organizations that are partnering at-risk kids with therapeutic animals or funding research on the intersection between mental illness and violence or teaching schoolchildren how to recognize and combat social isolation. Their work has improved and saved countless lives.

Miracles like those that happen every day in the lives of the family members left behind. The gaping, yawning holes are still there — but the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, have found a way to build meaningful lives in the wake of unimaginable loss. I have been lucky to witness firsthand this regrowth of purpose in so many families that I call friends.

Miracles like the day last December when several Sandy Hook parents stood quietly at the back of an auditorium as President Obama signed into law the most comprehensive reform of our nation’s mental health laws in a generation – a bill that would not have become law without the input and activism of the gun violence survivors’ community.

Newtown will never be the same. And having been there to witness the day’s events firsthand, I know I will never be the same. My life changed that day. I now wake up everyday knowing that my political career will be a failure if I do not change the laws of this nation to meaningfully reduce the chances that something like that will ever happen again.

But tonight, as I gather with family and community members in Newtown to remember the beauty that was extinguished from the earth five years ago today, I will not wallow in what has not been accomplished.

Instead, I will remember the two simple words whispered to me by one Sandy Hook mom earlier this year. As I readied to leave my office one evening, the front desk rang me to say that one of the Sandy Hook parents had dropped by unannounced. Of course, send her in, I said. She walked into my office, and without saying a word, draped her arms around me in a giant, warm bear hug.

“Keep going,” she said quietly to me. She wiped a few tears back, took a few steps backwards, and continued, “That’s all I wanted to say.” Then she left, unable to muster the energy to say anything more.

Newtown isn’t the same. I’m not the same. And I doubt you’re the same.

But five years later, we keep going. And we celebrate the miracles that continue to implausibly blossom all around us.

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