Like everyone, I have been in a near-constant state of shock and stupor since 26 women and children were murdered in Newtown three days ago. There is so much to say, yet no way to say any of it as well as I’d wish. There is so much to assess and rectify, yet no one knows where, or how, to begin.
For me, writing provides catharsis. I often say that I write this website for me and that it’s nice that some other people enjoy peeking into my world every now and then. And I mean that. While what happened in Newtown isn’t about me, it’s impossible not to reflect on our own lives and families after such tragedy.
At the time of the shootings, I was on the local NPR station talking again about “Connecticut’s Eccentricities” and having a great time doing it. One of the subjects I thought that may have come up was something about our state’s iconic trees. I had just posted something about one of Sharon’s Twin Oaks being felled by Hurricane Sandy and something else about Newtown’s “Kissing Oak” being split into two recently as well.
To me, that was the worst thing that had happened in Newtown in recent memory: An old oak tree in the woods cracking in half.
I’m glad we never talked about trees.
As you’d expect, I know Newtown pretty well. It’s one of our many towns that sort of exemplify the ideal Connecticut town. Beautiful Main street, rolling farmland, curvy back roads with trees a bit too close; a spirit of community in Sandy Hook and other sections, affluent areas and some more hardscrabble “New Englandy” sections. I have friends and acquaintances who grew up there and some of them know people directly affected.
I can’t… I can’t imagine.
The hardest cry my wife and I had this weekend was when I read a note from my friend who grew up in Newtown and now lives one town over. She knows a father who lost a child, the school nurse, and a first responder among others. In a failed attempt to try to understand a tiny bit about how parents can go on after this , she concluded, “I hope you and I never have to get closer to that answer as we are right now.”
I have two sons. My son Damian is the same age as all those Newtown children. “He’s a 2006” I told a parent of “a 2007” on Saturday. Those dates get me. Those dates.
I have been dropping Damian off at school every day now for four years. As a special needs student, he’s been going to school since he turned three, all year long. That’s a lot of drop-offs. And even though we could have him take the bus in the mornings, we voluntarily choose not to. Our walks in to school are just sort of my thing now.
Mind you, some of those walks can be downright awful. Damian does not allow umbrellas or mittens. He changes the rules on me daily. He yells repeated “no’s” for no reason all-too-often. Some days he throws himself on the ground. The bus would be so much easier.
And yet, I love it. I hold his hand all the way every day from where I park a block away (mostly because not doing so results in a 20 minute walk instead of what should be about 4, but also because I like to).
Most days he’s fine and he cracks me up with his unique take on the world. We pass his afternoon bus driver Ramon and Damian has decided the other drivers we see sitting in the queue are “Jamon” and “Bamon.” He needs to look in the bus’s big side-view mirrors to see the words “SUB LOOHCS” to remind me yet again that it’s actually “Bus School backworst.”
This morning, the Monday after the shootings, I told him he had to have a good walk with me despite the gloomy weather and to “be good” because there will be a lot of sad people today.
He quietly held my hand all the way today, as if he knew he just should today more than any other day.
We got to the front door and while there were more parents dropping their kids off than usual, nothing was amiss in Damian’s world. As we do every day, I crouched down and we hugged. I told him to be a good boy and he ran through his no’s (“hit-ting. Scream-ming. Kick-ing”) like usual. He gave me the double European cheek kisses he’s been doing for years.
With Damian, this routine will probably continue for many more years. Even as he grows and proceeds through the grades, he probably won’t get to that stage of wanting to “look cool.” And you know what? I love that too. Most parents “lose” that type of interaction around Damian’s age. I’ll get to have it for much longer, maybe forever.
20 sets of parents in Newtown never will again with their six and seven-year-olds.
Like the town’s “Kissing Oak,” all of Newtown is broken and changed – and will always remain so. But, like the resilient tree, the community will root itself a little deeper; build up scar tissue and somehow, in some way, continue to grow and sprout new life. New Hope.
This morning I felt the tears welling up again in my eyes as Damian relaxed his hugging grip from my neck. Parents and teachers around us were remaining strong in this time of impossible despair.
From his point of view, all was well and there were none of the outwardly sad people I’d mentioned.
“Papa!” Damian whisper-yelled in his unique way of speaking, “Sad people, tomorrow?” and bumbled off into school.
Sad people every day buddy, for a long, long time.