I want to talk to you about Newtown. I grew up in Bethel, the next town over. Newtown was quite literally our backyard. As an adult, one of my first jobs was working for the Town of Newtown. It is a beautiful town, lots of farmland and rolling hills and meadows. Newtown is a large town in terms of square miles, but not population-wise. It is a typical small New England town. Back in the 80s, when I worked there, it didn't even have much shopping. Years ago, a woman named Mary Hawley donated money to the Town to build a library, a school and the Town Hall. Once upon a time, the Town Hall had a bowling alley in it. When I worked there, it still had a gym in it and a movie theater. It is one of those second run theaters where the movies are really cheap. There is a beautiful meadow near the downtown where the Town Christmas tree stood. Main Street is lined with big, old beautiful historic homes. But for me, what always symbolized Newtown, visually anyway, is the flagpole. It's a huge flagpole, smack dab in the middle of Main Street. Every once in a while, people would argue that it was a safety hazard. Maybe so, but when you come around then bend, heading into Town, and you see the American flag flying there, well, it is just an awesome sight. I've seen so many beautiful pictures of the flag flying on that flagpole, the saddest being the one I saw this weekend, with the flag lowered to half mast in memory of the students and faculty murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
A & I were home Friday morning, I had taken a vacation day because we had a wedding to go to that afternoon. While we sat a the kitchen table, A noticed something on one of the feeds he gets on his phone. He gets dispatches from various fire departments. He said "There's a report of shots fired at a School in Newtown." Moments later, from the dispatches, we knew it was Sandy Hook Elementary. I turned the TV to a news channel, but It hadn't hit the wires yet. We sat and listed to the fire and ambulance calls, the police calls were scrambled, thank God. It was scary, but didn't seem horrific yet. A picked up on things that went over my head, but he would recognize that stuff having been an EMT. Soon enough, it was on TV. Watching the news unfold, it was so hard to accept that this had happened in Newtown. Having grown up in that area, it is one of the last places I would have expected it. Danbury yes, even Bethel or Brookfield, but Newtown? But really, we all now that it can happen anywhere. And, of course, it is made all the more horrific by the fact that it happened at an elementary school, to children just starting to learn, who didn't get a chance to live. And it happened during the holiday - Hanukkah, Christmas - a time of such my and excitement for children.
I wondered if I would know anyone who lost a family member. I had gone to high school with a lot of Newtown kids, I had coworkers who lived there, I studied and taught karate there. I worried how my brother was doing as an educator in the areas biggest community, Danbury. Tragedies like this affect us all on various levels. It hits all Americans hard, parents maybe a little harder, those from Connecticut harder, those of us from the Newtown area even harder, then of course those in Newtown harder yet and so on down to those who lost someone.
When you remember the people of Newtown in your prayers, especially the parents and loved ones of the lost, please also remember those who witnessed the horror. The children who survived, their teachers, the police and the volunteer firemen and ambulance corps that responded need our thoughts and prayers now too.