So many words have streamed out of Newtown to the nation and the world in the past month. Some days, it seemed like there was never more than 10 or 20 feet between any given resident and a microphone waiting for his or her answer to a dog-eared menu of stock questions about one’s emotional state, fears and hopes, or to this comment or that uttered by this personage or that. All in all, those Newtowners who so suddenly found themselves engaged in conversation with a world so curious about all things local acquitted themselves with dignity and intelligence, and more than a little forbearance. We are most proud, however, of those parents of slain children who faced a gymnasium full of jostling journalists, recording equipment, and unblinking cameras at Edmond Town Hall on January 14. They spoke of their resolve to have the memory of their children’s lives serve as a beacon to guide a nation floundering for direction in the wake of the tragedy in Sandy Hook. Their voices, though shaken at times and fraught with grief, were, nonetheless, strong and unequivocal in their message: all senseless violence — but especially against children — must stop, and Sandy Hook must be the place where it stops.
Sandy Hook Promise, the newly formed group that provided the opportunity for these parents to speak out in a supportive environment, hopes to foster a national discussion of the issues associated with the tragedy: gun violence, mental health, and safety — not just in schools but in all public places. That discussion, which has been taken up now in coffee shops and corridors of power in every state of the union and in the nation’s capital, quite literally, starts right here in Newtown. And so far, Newtown has presented itself as a model of discourse that is sensitive yet uncompromising, compassionate yet rigorous, and urgent in its questioning yet patient in the search for answers.
The local conversation about the traumatic events in Sandy Hook on 12/14 is likely to continue for years and will shape our town for decades. It will influence nearly every facet of community life, from quantifiable financial and brick-and-mortar issues associated with the future of the Sandy Hook School, to the less quantifiable challenge of identifying and treating mental health problems before they reach a flashpoint. Underlying the many fundamental questions we must address in months and years ahead is the continuing question of our identity as a town. Who are we, and who will be become? Will our disagreements devolve into intractable divisions, or will our sense of community allow the discussion to evolve and cohere? Coherence or incoherence? The choice is ours.
Listening to each other, of course, is key to making the right choice. To that end, The Bee is introducing a new feature in this week’s edition called “Talking It Through” on page A-2. The column will allow us to listen to different voices and different ideas, insights, and practical observations that may help the conversation stay on track, stay positive, and stay true to the spirit of Newtown — a spirit that has delivered us so far through our town’s darkest days and now points us to a better future.