It happened here.
That’s what I thought when I took Exit 8. It happened here. Three weeks ago. Exactly.
When I was in grad school, I visited the Hermitage Plantation. The visit was surreal. The whole time, you walk around thinking: It happened here. People died right here. People were lynched right here. Don’t get me wrong, I am not drawing a comparison between Sandy Hook and slavery. What I’m saying is this: when you stand on the ground where murder happened, you feel ill. It’s different than reading about it, seeing it on the news or imagining it. Very different.
I spent Friday in Newtown and Sandy Hook. I did some driving around to see the town and later in the day I hit the pavement to hand out about 50 of our art kits to individuals and agencies in the area.
Sandy Hook is the epitome of a “town.” It’s much smaller than a city but it’s definitely not a village. It’s a town. When you take the exit into Sandy Hook, you can go left or right. Right will take you to Sandy Hook. Left will take you to Newtown. I went right. You reach a traffic light, flanked by a grouping of buildings that house shops and restaurants. From there the roads turn into winding, snowy residential areas. Immediately I got the sense that everyone in Sandy Hook knows each other in one way or another. Everyone there was touched directly by what happened. Strangely, as I drove up toward the school, I passed by the retired psychologist who was in the news for taking in six children from the school who had run away after the shooting. He sort of waved at me as he was checking his mail. I immediately recognized him and gasped. It was just odd to cross paths with him, I guess. Again I thought: It happened here. Right here. It happened to him.
Throughout the small town of Sandy Hook, I saw signs everywhere. Signs of support and tokens that were gently propped onto the ice. The fronts of homes were transformed in to memorials. 26 tiny crosses. 26 flags. Painted signs. It happened to each of these people.
I didn’t want to disturb the residents of Sandy Hook or become a nagging media presence, so I took photos from my car, making sure that I wasn’t holding up traffic. I said a prayer at each stop for the families and children of the town and moved on.
The road to Sandy Hook Elementary School is blocked with 24 hour police presence. You can’t go to the school anymore and the kids won’t be returning there. Just on the corner though is the fire station where all the children were taken. It’s a small, old station and any other day I would not have noticed it at all, but today I again thought: It happened here. The kids came here. 20 parents waited here…and left without their children.
On my way out of Sandy Hook I stopped at the Starbucks to catch up on emails. The kids were getting out of school and school buses were everywhere. It seemed that life had returned to some semblance of normal. I can’t be the judge of normal though. I imagine the healing will go on for years and will happen in unexpected ways.
As I pulled out of Starbuck, ready to get back on the highway, I noticed St. Rose Church & School. I still had about 20 totes in the car and thought I’d stop by the Parish Education Center to see if our kits could be of use. It’s nerve wracking to knock on a stranger’s door – especially in a town that’s been shaken by violence. The people were incredibly welcoming though, and told me that they have support groups for parent’s and families there. They were happy to accept our donation, and I’ll be delivering more on Sunday. As I walked out, the director said “I can guarantee that these will go to kids who can use them.”
Well, that’s the goal isn’t it?
Kids were murdered here. Teachers were killed here. Unspeakable violence came to Sandy Hook. It happened here.
But, life is continuing. Healing is happening. It’s happening here. It’s nice that we can be a small part of that.