Janet and I returned from Newtown, CT, Sunday night after a weekend that was at once poignant, meaningful, and very full. I hope to post a full report after I’ve had time to process all that happened. Let me simply mention a few lasting impressions:
- Newtown is worthy of a Currier and Ives print: a classic New England town of Victorian frame houses set among rolling hills blanketed in snow.
- The memorials—sputtering candles, teddy bears and stuffed animals (more than 60,000!) soggy from snow, flowers now brown and drooping—are being removed, TV satellite trucks have disappeared from the streets, and life will soon find its “new normal” in Newtown. Nothing will ever be the same.
- We will never forget a session with two sets of parents. Each lost a daughter, and the daughters happened to be best friends. They were amazingly articulate about their emotions through the grief process. They choose not to watch news or fixate on any details of what happened. Rather, they want their last memory to be kissing their daughters goodbye and putting them on the school bus. Every day brings new, stabbing reminders: They reach out to hold hands around the dinner table and one is missing…they gear up to send their surviving sons (who heard everything in a nearby classroom) back to school and try to answer the haunting question, “Will I be safe?”
- We talked with a nurse who waited in the trauma unit with dozens of beds prepared for the injured, only to find they were unneeded; to a fellow teacher who followed the principal out of a meeting as they heard a commotion, then heard the principal yell, “Go back—it’s a shooter!” just before she lunged toward the gunman and got shot; to counselors who waited for four hours with anxious parents in a fire house just across from the school until the state’s governor finally announced, “There are no survivors” and wails of grief swept through the hall; to first responders who burst in while the shooter still lived, probably saving scores of lives, but are left with horrific visual images that can never be erased.
- At least among those we talked to, there was no spirit of revenge. Anger flares up, of course: one little girl draws pictures of the shooter and stabs them with her pencil. Mostly, though, we sensed bewilderment and deep sadness. No one has a clue to the “Why us?” questions, and evidently the shooter left none.
- Despite bad weather, 600 people showed up in the community meeting on Friday night and several hundred more braved a snowstorm on Saturday. Bowl games and normal festivities around New Year’s weekend didn’t have the same appeal in Newtown this year. The questions they submitted showed their concern with more serious matters: Why doesn’t God intervene? Where can I find comfort? Why do such things happen?
- Janet and I both felt good about the time we spent in Newtown and very good about leaving followup in the hands of the church that hosted us. They certainly did not ask for this calling, yet they know they are strategically placed to provide healing and comfort over the months and years to come. On Sunday I spoke directly to the challenge of that church, in two services.
- We are so grateful for your prayers and emotional support, shown by the many notes and emails. We felt like the emissaries of many others. “A healthy body feels the pain of the weakest part,” Dr. Paul Brand once told me, and indeed we sense health in your outpouring of concern for Newtown. So many want to help, and we sensed that in such gestures as my publishers providing free books and United Airlines offering us free tickets. We’re deeply grateful, and felt honored to be invited into a bereaved community at such a time. Even the local liquor store displayed a sign that can be a reminder for all of us: “Pray for Newtown.”