Defining Newtown In A New Year

“Year’s end is neither an end nor a beginning but a going on, with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.” —Hal Borland

As a journalist, author, and full-time observer of rural Connecticut for several decades prior to his death in 1978, Hal Borland became an expert on the coming and going of years. Much of his wisdom and experience was derived from the vicissitudes of life on a small farm in Sharon, where natural processes preside and the status quo is defined by change itself.

The Newtown community has spent a lot of time in the past year thinking about how to define itself in the wake of an event that shattered nearly every notion the town had about the status quo. Senseless violence is the most unnatural of processes; however, the wisdom that grows out of the experience, though unwelcome, is profound. That wisdom was evident from the very start of the community’s remarkable experience over the past year. First Selectman Pat Llodra told the packed December 16, 2012, memorial service at the high school, “It is a defining moment for Newtown, but it will not define us.” That statement became for Newtown both a manifesto and an invitation not to get stuck in the context of a crime so antithetical to the character of the town. It was all about “going on,” guided by the wisdom of experience.

The end of 2013 was punctuated by repeated attempts to bring some definition to the imponderables of 12/14. A trio of reports — the state’s attorney’s report on the shooting in November, a report on the 12/14 police response by a panel of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association in early December, and the release of the voluminous Connecticut State Police investigative report last week — sought to furnish context and details. Already, many of those details are being fashioned into “definitive” accounts of what happened. The first of the expected tell-all books was published by a Daily News reporter just in time for the December 14 anniversary. Its title was itself a definition of the town: Newtown — An American Tragedy.

It is clear now that Newtown does not have sole proprietary rights to its own definition; we can expect many people from many places to add their own attitudes and angles to the events of 12/14 and to the character of our community. As we have seen in the past year, even the people who live here are not of a mind on all the public policy issues that have arisen in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. Mrs Llodra’s implicit invitation still stands, however. At this turning of the year, how do we define ourselves?

Ironically, we might choose a word in formulating that definition that has two opposite meanings. Cleave means to split or divide along a natural line or grain and it also means to adhere or be bound closely to something. We think of Newtown that way — a town of many divergent points of view, orientations, and aspirations that is strongly bound together in common purpose for the common good. It is a town committed to “going on” with all the wisdom that experience can instill in us.

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