DANBURY, Conn.—You may follow tennis, but as editor of this website, tennis has a way of following me. Even in the most unlikely of times.
I live about 10 minutes west of Newtown, Conn., where last December a gunman killed 26 teachers and students at Sandy Hook Elementary School. In the days that followed, I wanted to do more than donate, watch television, write, and, perhaps most of all, think. To put it another way, I wasn’t sure what else I could do. So when a community gathering at a local university was organized and held five days after the shooting, it seemed especially well-timed.
Residents of Newtown and its surrounding towns entered the gymnasium clutching miniature plush Mickey Mouse toys, along with battery-operated candles, tissues, and flowers, all given upon arrival. The event went off with a hitch—the audio wasn’t working and a member of a nearby school chorus appeared to fall ill—but it didn’t matter. There were bigger problems to tackle, somehow, and that was why I was there.
Of all the artists, musicians, and speakers that offered their comfort, one spoke to me in particular: Reverend Clive Calver, born in London but now Senior Pastor of Walnut Hill Community Church in nearby Bethel. His words gave me, for a moment, something else to think about besides what happened, and he also gave the great majority of the large crowd a bit of trivia. In referencing a similar tragedy that befell the town of Dunblane, Scotland in 1996, Calver spoke of one boy who escaped the school that day and went on to lead an extraordinary life. The message being, however overwhelming and sad a situation, we can move past it and on with our lives, as this tennis player did.
That player, of course, was Andy Murray, who as of seven days ago is not only a Wimbledon finalist, as Calver described him that night, but Wimbledon champion. I’m not sure who the next great American tennis player will be, but I hope, against all odds, that he or she is from Newtown, and gives its denizens something to cheer about someday, as Murray has done in Dunblane. “The exploits of Andy Murray are helping to paint the town in a better light,” Alan Booth, secretary of the Dunblane Community Council, told me in an e-mail just before the Scot won Wimbledon. “Of course the whole town is rooting for a win for Andy, but we are proud of what he has so far achieved both in the tennis world and for Dunblane.”
I began a conversation with Booth because I had aspirations of heading to Dunblane for the final, should Murray make it that far. I didn’t end up taking the seven-hour train ride from Wimbledon, but I was delighted to see pictures like this one in the Guardian, showing Dunblane’s citizens in jovial spirits during the match. And speaking of spirits—not the kind that surely tasted sweetest in Dunblane’s pubs last Sunday—one man from Larbert, about 15 miles south of Murray’s birthplace, said the following: “Andy’s exorcised a ghost in Dunblane. The people here now have something positive to think of and be proud of. He wanted to do that and he has.”
The headline of that Guardian article reads: ANDY MURRAY’S WIMBLEDON TRIUMPH HAS RECLAIMED DUNBLANE FOR ITS PEOPLE.
The author, Ally Fogg, sums it up beautifully: “It is no longer the town of Thomas Hamilton. Dunblane is Andy Murray’s town, and he has helped its people get their town back. Of all his achievements, this may be his greatest.”
As entertaining as Steve Tignor’s “Keeping Tabs” pieces were this fortnight—and I implore you to read them if you haven’t—this is the best material I saw printed in London’s papers.
I hope to someday get to Dunblane and see the town for what it is, not what it was on one demonic day. When I make the short drive to Newtown, I visit for the same reasons I did before December 14, 2012: For its quintessential New England charm, for its great tennis courts, for its heavenly ice cream (get the Route 302 Chocolate Moo, if you ever come by). I will never label Newtown by what happened at Sandy Hook, and Dunblane should not be defined by one individual’s actions. But I’m going to make an exception if that individual is Andy Murray, and Dunblane seems to agree.
Of course, we can never forget the past, nor should we seek to, as Calver reminded me and thousands of others during the service. So I also want to head to Dunblane to pay my respects. I asked Booth if there was a way he felt most suitable. “Do whatever you feel is right and appropriate for yourself,” he told me, adding, “I am sure you will receive a warm welcome.”
I look forward to that coffee and chat, Alan. Until then, I offer this story as my small gesture—and, though it goes against the journalist’s code, a thank you to Andy Murray. Dunblane will never forget you.