When I found out about the shooting in Newtown, Conn., I raced around, looking at a bunch of different news outlets to make sure they were talking about my Newtown. See, Newtown is a very small town, about an hour or so away from New York City. But whenever I told people where I was from, their eyebrows furrowed and their eyes went blank. I’d say, “Um, near Danbury?” Still no recognition. Then I’d just say, “Oh, it’s within commuting distance to New York City.” Satisfied, the conversation would move on. Now, everyone has heard of Newtown – now, I hesitate to say where I grew up.
When I was a little girl, I attended Sandy Hook Elementary School, where the shooting took place. I can vividly remember driving up to the school. The school mascot is a jolly green giant, and there are huge green footprints that lead up the school driveway. How chilling that the shooter, Adam Lanza, followed those same green footprints. How tragic that the parents of those kids dropped their kids off at school that morning, probably thinking nothing of it, just like my parents did not too long ago.
My heart goes out to everyone who has been affected by this tragedy. If it could happen in Newtown, it could happen anywhere. It was, and still is, such a good place, filled with many kind, loving people.
I experienced this kind and loving attitude firsthand, 15 years ago, when my mom suddenly passed on shortly after giving birth to my brother – leaving behind my heartbroken dad, volatile teenage sister, brand new baby brother, and 10-year-old me. It was absolutely horrible. But our neighbors and friends rallied around us – bringing bagels every weekend, giving us a mountain of grocery store tokens for free food, donating bikes at Christmas, swinging by with countless casseroles, washing laundry, doing dishes, and so much more. My entire 5th grade class sent me condolence cards, and my cheerleading squad teammates showed up to the funeral to support me.
For years after she passed on, until we moved away, they gently lifted us out of our misery and supported us whole-heartedly so we could go on to have happy, productive lives. Their practical and emotional support really helped us make it through. That’s the Newtown I will always remember – the giving one.
When the shooting happened, I was five months pregnant. I was in that in-between phase where I was definitely showing, but not huge just yet. I remember hearing the news and just wanting to completely retreat from it. At first, I didn’t even cry. I didn’t know what to think – I was just in shock. Waking up the next day, I turned on my computer and checked the news, hoping the whole thing had just been a mistake, a bad dream, but no - everyone knows where Newtown is now. Twenty seven young lives lost.
But just as the Newtown community picked up my family after our tragedy, Newtown will recover with everyone’s generous support. It needs people like you and me to recognize what Newtown is – an amazingly loving town. We can’t let one man’s extreme mental instability change that.
Now, as a new mom on this sober anniversary, I remember the lives lost on that horrible day, and I remember the true spirit of Newtown. I choose to focus on the good that’s there – not one man’s horrible act. Focusing on the good helps the parents, siblings, and other community members who were affected forgive and move forward with their lives.
Surely their lost loved ones would want them to go on to have productive lives, just like my mom would want me to.
I imagine all those who were lost, including my mom, finding out about us somehow – and being proud of how strong we’ve been through it all. I’m proud of myself, and I’m proud of Newtown. Sure, it’s not Anytown anymore – but that’s OK. We’re stronger because of it. Like gold that’s purified by the fire, we are improved during tough times. Our desire to connect as a community is strengthened.
As for me, when my little girl gets older, I’m definitely going to talk to her, as well as her peers, teachers, and our neighbors to make sure everyone is doing okay – and if anyone’s mental health is unstable, make sure they’re getting the help they need. The main way that tragedies like this can be prevented is by taking it neighbor-to-neighbor, friend-to-friend, mom-to-mom – and always be connecting with each other, seeing needs and helping in any way we can.
Going forward, let’s remind ourselves that yes, horrible things happen, but we can get through it if we depend on each other and don’t shrink away in times of tragedy. Let’s lift each other up, and one deep breath, one day at a time, things will get better.
Remember, as you drop your kids off at daycare or school, that there are billions of wonderful people in this world. Yes, tragic things happen, but there’s so much more good than bad. More often than not, the world is a safe place, filled with kind hearts.
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