The outpouring of love since last year’s tragic shooting at an elementary school in my community has been colossal. Not only did I know people who were directly affected, everyone I know here did as well. But even through the terrible pain, I understood that God – whom I know as Love itself – wasn’t in this. And I knew that God could redeem it.
This divine redemption brings to mind a statement written by Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science. She wrote in her bestselling book, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures”: “Evil is not supreme; good is not helpless” (p. 207). Also, the Bible says, “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Amazingly, this is what has happened in our community; we have proved it possible under the most challenging of circumstances.
Newtown received literally tons of mail filled with heartfelt thoughts from all over the world, all of which was opened, read, and cherished. Financial contributions flooded in. People knitted scarves in green and white for every student in the school, and churches sent hand-knit prayer shawls, each stitch a prayer for our community.
President Obama came and wept with each family individually, more a minister than a commander in chief. The funerals and the vigils were many, guarded by legions of volunteer firefighters from far and wide, with flanks of them lining the streets. This town was ripped wide open, but it was instantly and intensely cradled in love – bathed in it, almost overwhelmed by it.
The weekly edition of The Christian Science Monitor did a cover story about a local church’s healing response to this tragedy, and hundreds of copies were donated and distributed in the community. Indeed, prayer was instantly a trending topic on Twitter, and stayed on as one for a long time. Prayer was a word that was on almost everyone’s lips, surging from each individual heart to connect with the great heart of Love.
The loving response this town would choose became clear to me one week after the tragedy. That next Friday there was to be a chiming of bells organized by our governor, and all churches in Connecticut were to participate by tolling a bell 26 times, once for each victim. But in the center of Newtown, 28 bells were heard that day, since it was decided to include the perpetrator and his mother in the prayerful remembrance. This was a challenging thing to do, and although it was not a universally popular move at the time, I felt it was our first collective step toward healing. Everyone is a cherished child of God.
There is a clear consciousness here that the beloved children and teachers will be remembered. This community has celebrated each one of those children’s birthdays. Each child bears an individual as well as a collective legacy mandating us to love in such a way that ensures no one else ever experiences this kind of pain. They’re also being honored as we take steps toward positive change in the world. Parents have banded together to inspire folks to make the “Sandy Hook Promise,” “to join other parents to encourage and support sensible solutions that help prevent gun violence in our communities and our country,” and has also recently launched the Parent Together initiative, a nationwide campaign to educate parents about children’s safety and to make changes to help prevent gun violence. Both of these efforts have a healthy, bipartisan approach that is unifying instead of divisive. Additionally, a huge proportion of locals have been to Washington, D.C., in recent months to passionately share their perspectives in all sorts of venues.
A year later, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, this community is stronger than ever – an inspiring example of graciousness, hope, and goodness in a world desperately in need of these things. The local clergy stand as one, and are ready to support this community no matter how long healing takes. The first selectman, who rose to this occasion with real emotional intelligence, has become like the town mother, and was recently unanimously reelected, running unopposed. The school has been knocked down, and exists no longer. At an art fair this fall I overheard a mother of young children say, “Newtown? Oh, I love Newtown. I feel so safe here.”
We’ve proved that human caring and decency trump the most heinous evil. God, divine Love, is present to help, save, and heal. We feel empowered and secure. We have faced the worst, but we have not become embittered, cynical, or afraid. We chose to love instead, which is the most powerful response possible. We are not only feeling but we’re extending that embrace. We are striving for such an infinite Love that leaves no one out, for if everyone feels and experiences real Love, this won’t happen again.