My Poor Man’s Feast pub schedule says I’m supposed to put up my end-of-year favorites list. It’s a little bit funny, a little bit snarky. But I can’t do it. Not today. Maybe not tomorrow.
I was sitting in my office in New York City yesterday when it came through via my Twitter account: there had been a shooting at a local school in my Connecticut town, Newtown. I called Susan, who hadn’t yet heard anything. Moments later, her mother called her from Farmington, where she was glued to her television set.
“It’s children,” she said. “It’s all children—”
I called our beloved neighbor, Melissa, who, with her fireman husband, raised two beautiful and kind daughters here, right next to our house.
“It’s horrible—” And then she said she had to go.
Another neighbor was at the school and had spoken to an eye-witness; she was in shock.
A lovely couple we always see at summertime parties on our street — he’s a stay-at-home dad with a wonderful wife and two gorgeous kids — had already run over to the school to get their little girl, whose best friend’s little brother was missing.
My heart stopped; I couldn’t breathe, or hear. The last time I saw them, their daughter was running around in our neighbor’s yard with a bunch of kids and a big yellow dog and some chickens, during one of the many barbecues on our street. They are not our children, but we love them all, and we dote on them. That’s the way Newtowners feel. All of us.
That’s the way my town is.
The media keeps asking, How could this happen in bucolic Newtown Connecticut, where people come to escape the violence and the noise of the city? We moved here nine years ago from rural northern-er Connecticut, so we could commute to New York. We found the town to be gigantic — 30,000 people live here. It’s beautiful, with a ubiquitous New England white steeple and an infamous flagpole stuck right in the middle of Main Street, confusing drivers young and old, and causing regular fender benders. It’s also often politically divided, and has a very active town council and a spectacular newspaper. Sometimes, town meetings are loud and angry; sometimes, feelings get hurt. But regardless of what motivates us, people who live in Newtown generally love Newtown. And it’s an amazing place to raise children; the schools — the people who work in them, teach in them, coach in them, and the students who attend them — are peerless. At least in my opinion.
But what do I know? Susan and I don’t have any children. A few people said to me yesterday “You can’t know what those parents are feeling.” And you know what? They’re right. We can’t. We’ve wept and shook and wailed, we woke up this morning with that slightly sick, nauseated feeling that maybe this was all a dream. But it wasn’t. Those magnificent children of Newtown are gone; we’ve lost twenty darling babes, along with the adults who bravely tried to protect them. I can’t possibly know what their parents are feeling,
But the little kids of Newtown who will never grow up are our children. They’re the children of everyone reading this. They’re the children of my friends in England and Spain who’ve checked in with me regularly over the last few hours, just to make sure that we’re all muddling through. They’re the children of my friends in Brooklyn who’ve called and texted to make sure that we — not us alone, but all of us — are putting one foot in front of the other. They’re the children of my friends in Tennessee and Maine and Kansas City and Virginia, who ran to church to pray for our town, and for us to have the strength to help each other.
This isn’t the time for political division, and while I have particularly strong feelings about it, right now is not even the time to talk about the American triptych that is guns and violence and mental illness. There will be plenty of time to have that conversation.
Right now, at a place of such visceral, intense grief — every single part of me hurts, down to the cellular level — the only thing I want to do is stay close to the people I love, to my neighbors, and to the town that is my home.