Close to Home: Some Thoughts on Newtown
HOME—I play tennis at a club in Wilton, Conn., about 20 minutes from my home in Danbury, a city hugging the state line. I moved to the area just over two years ago, not knowing much about the state besides its preeminent college basketball team, the University of Connecticut Huskies. As someone who was born near Syracuse, N.Y. and wears orange whenever possible, I entered the Nutmeg State with a slight trepidation.
My perception of Connecticut, and in particular southwestern Connecticut, changed quickly, though I’ll never be caught wearing UConn apparel. The area’s unique and endearing qualities are all part of the New England charm you’ve heard referenced so often in the past few days. But like any cliché, there’s real truth to it. Here, as you traverse narrow local roads (“highways”) and gaze at houses constructed two centuries ago, or when you greet your neighbor—or shake the hand of your playing partner across the net—you feel part of a strong, welcoming community.
The place has its own sights, smiles, and smells: There’s ethnic flavor in Danbury, a classic bistro in Ridgefield, and for desert, homemade ice cream at Ferris Acres Creamery, in Newtown, located just a few minutes from Sandy Hook Elementary School. Built on a farm and located on Sugar Street, this renowned summertime favorite boasts at least 40 flavors of ice cream on any given day. The signage required to communicate all these tasty options takes up a great portion of the storefront; the remaining space is filled with pictures of local children who have visited the Creamery. But you don’t need to see these photos as evidence of its appeal—each day, kids fill the parking lot and exclaim their desires with delicious delight.
Newtown is filled with more quintessentially local attractions, including The Inn at Newtown, a vibrant, classic eatery near the town’s center, and Edmond Town Hall Theater, where movie tickets are but two dollars. Newtown is, quite simply, filled with good, despite what Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy correctly stated last Friday, after the horrific events: “Evil visited this community today.”
On Saturday and Sunday, good returned to Newtown, if painfully slowly. I felt it 20 miles away in Danbury, and saw it from around the country, on television and online. I didn’t know any of the victims personally, but I know people who had closer connections. One child, seven-year-old Grace Audrey McDonnell, was the niece of former ATP Executive Chairman & President Adam Helfant. In any event, I felt and am still feeling the pain we all share, thinking of the families directly affected during this holiday season.
What can we do? We can remember, and that is what this very difficult week will be about in Newtown. We can pray, as Connecticut and the other states did last night during an interfaith vigil attended by the President of the United States. We can also donate, to help defray the unfortunate, tangible costs the impacted families will incur. This webpage provides links to a number of organizations that have established means to help, and I encourage you to give what you can.
Newtown will never be the same, but I look forward to better days ahead, when the town and its residents have had time to heal as best they can, when our actions have displaced gloom with good, and when young boys and girls, perhaps some who were in Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, can smile as they wait for a taste of sunshine.
—Ed McGrogan, Online Editor
As Ed writes, the tragedy in Newtown happened in a specific place, a small place. It’s a village with big backyards and high church steeples and a shop with 40 flavors of homemade ice cream. As with the locations of so many of these tragedies, it’s the type of place that inspires us to say, “This isn’t supposed to happen here.” That statement was even more appropriate in Newtown than it is in most other cities. Before Friday, the city had gone 10 years without a homicide.
That said, an event like the school shooting isn’t supposed to happen anywhere. On Sunday night President Obama said that the horror and sadness of it had reverberated all across the United States. It had happened, in a sense, to all of our parents and children. Over the weekend the tennis player Dustin Brown echoed that thought when he tweeted, “I wish we came together in life as much as we do in death.” If there’s one thing people from across the many spectrums of American life—political, economic, racial, geographic, Red State, Blue State—can agree on, it’s loving and protecting our kids.
You could see it in the way LeBron James held his sons before a game the other night, and I thought I could see it in the way another, anonymous father held his daughter on the subway yesterday. If he wasn’t literally keeping her closer than normal, the thought couldn’t have been far from his mind. After a divisive election season, Newtown has been a painful reminder to Americans that we live in one country, and are subject to the same hopes and fears.
For 20 years, I’ve resided in New York, about 90 minutes southwest of Newtown. The big city is supposedly the spiritual opposite of the small town; when a shooting happens in NYC, no one says it isn’t supposed to happen here. In reality, violence has been declining in New York since the early 1990s. Still, every morning, in my Brooklyn neighborhood, I pass parents walking, hand in hand, with their children all the way from their homes to the school doors.
Obama, in the finest line of his memorial service speech, said that having children is like wearing your heart outside of your body. You’re suddenly subject to every imaginable passing fear, and you must learn that you can’t protect your kids from everything. I think of children as reminding us over and over again of how fragile life is—in their innocent wanderings, they make its precarious edges frighteningly visible. In the wake of Newtown, Aurora, and other recent senseless events, it can seem as if sanity itself is a more fragile, and precious, commodity than we realize.
With Thanksgiving just behind us, and Christmas and New Year’s coming soon, it’s a season for resolutions, for rebirth, for trying to better appreciate what we have in front of us. Maybe Newtown will bring us together as parents and children for more than one weekend. For myself, as I sat watching TV and refreshing Twitter on that awful Friday, I kept hoping for one thing. That in the future I would be more grateful for calm days, for dull days, for sane days, for days when nothing much at all seemed to happen.
—Steve Tignor, Senior Editor