At a Christmas brunch in downtown Buffalo, N.Y. this morning, a woman I had just met asked me if I grew up anywhere in the area.
“No. I’m from Connecticut, actually.”
Naturally, she probed further. When I revealed I’m indeed from Newtown it prompted an uncomfortable reaction from my entire table.
I used to like these conversations. Before Friday, I would have told her about the serenity of a pastoral New England countryside; a relic despite its relative proximity to New York City. I would have told her about how we were a Tory town during Revolutionary times and how we invented Scrabble and how we still don’t allow fast food chains within the town limits. Despite trying, I wouldn’t have done justice to the irrevocable sense of community that binds Newtown.
Before Friday, it was my town. And it was my story to tell.
But like a former classmate so eloquently wrote, Newtown doesn't belong to us anymore.
The town and its story belong to the world now. It belongs to parents and teachers and students. It belongs to concerned citizens everywhere to serve as a sad reminder of the striking imperfections of the human race.
One of the biggest problems is that we can’t understand this. Debating gun control and mental health issues don’t help much. We can’t even pretend to comprehend what was going on in Adam Lanza’s head that compelled him to do this. And because we can’t understand it, we don’t know how to prevent it. We’re vulnerable and exposed.
Yet emerging from this is an unfamiliar sense of comfort and joy. It started with the outpouring of concern and support right here in Newtown. But it didn't stop there. Dozens of charities and awareness groups are established and thriving, just forty-eight hours after the tragedy. People all over the world have adopted us during our greatest time of need. They've propped us up and, in many ways, become one of us. We may not realize it, but we have new neighbors now.
So allow me to act on behalf of my beloved hometown and welcome you all with open arms. There are a few more things you should know about us, though. First, we don’t need to come together because we already are together. Also, despite all we've lost, we've already won. We won by not reacting with hate or retaliation, but with love. We won because the fate of these twenty-six victims has reminded us of the most important things in life. And today, somehow, we are better people and this is a better place.
But much of the hope we feel today is because of you, people all over the world. You walked right in and shouldered the burden with us. You reminded us that we’re not alone. And you made sure that overwhelming good might come out of this.
From the bottom of our hearts: thank you.
Maybe Newtown wasn't just our town after all.