I wanted to offer my thoughts to the community, not in my role as a member of the Distribution Committee for the Newtown-Sandy Community Fund, but as a neighbor and friend. We will be crossing some significant milestones in the days and weeks ahead in closing the first important phase of that Fund. This offers us a time to reflect on what this fund is.
What strikes me most is that this fund is a gift. It is not a federal entitlement enacted by statute. It is not an insurance policy recipients have paid into. It is a wonderful gift offered through the love and kindness of many thousands of young children who gathered their pennies as they cried for our terrible loss, teens who washed cars and held fund drives, of parents, whether they acted from their homes or their corporate and foundation board rooms, who felt some of the heartbreak of our parents here and reached out to say that their hearts broke too. They wanted to say that they are with us, to do something to be of help.
It is important to not lose sight of this healing fact: this fund is a gift of love from many people. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of the work on the committee has been the sordid and impossible task of trying to assign a dollar amount to people’s anguish. It is impossible to do in any satisfactory way. The stark reality is that there is no such thing as a compensation for these terrible losses and the ongoing consequences to the families and the whole community. To hold on to the notion that these funds could somehow substitute for these bitter losses is tragic folly. We all see that.
There is a touching and tender mercy in knowing that this fund is actually a gift. It being a gift offers us an opportunity for growth that a government entitlement or an insurance policy wouldn’t. Knowing it is a gift of loving generosity, it can be received with loving gratitude. In that view, it offers a comforting balm and an opportunity to unite us in compassion. This gift of love ties us to a community of caring friends across the country and the world. When viewed as an entitlement, which it is not, or an insurance claim, which it is not, the seeds of bitterness are sown as these funds can never satisfy as a compensation for the losses that were and are still being sustained here. But, a gift of love can be healing.
With that in mind, we acknowledge with heartfelt loving gratitude this gift that is an expression of the loving generosity of so many. We humbly acknowledge that this gift carries with it a moral obligation to keep alive the spirit of loving kindness that created it. And there is plenty to be proud of in this regard.
A very special thing is happening in our town. All of those who have so generously given of themselves for our benefit can feel a part of a wonderful process stirring here. They will find a town that has sustained a tremendous and very cruel blow. From the families who lost precious loved ones in an unspeakable way, to the teachers and students who witnessed the horrors of that day, the first responders and in expanding circles reaching out to the whole community, they will find here a people who have committed themselves to the best of our humanity. They will find a community that rejects being assigned the role of victim or survivor or casualty.
Instead, they will find a community that has grown closer through heartbreak. And from that very heartbreak, we have become a community that has committed itself to becoming a role model of compassion, resilience and service to others. In ways we never expected, we have become a community that shines a light of hope and renewal in a dark time.
At a time in our country when a number of serious crises have led to an anxiety that feeds despair and extremism, Newtown is showing that there is a better way. We can reach for the “better angels of our nature” as Lincoln called another generation to after our nation’s most devastating ordeal. We can seize on our compassion and generosity of heart in times of great loss and become more instead of less. We can take added comfort and strength from the bonds of unity that result. Our hearts are indeed filled with grief, but we can choose to suffer successfully and become more.
In the final analysis, grief is a form of love. It is love’s anguish for the absence of the beloved. The task of grief is to find a way to honor that love in a new way. This is impossible and our growth is undermined when anger or fear impede the course of love in their harmful ways. This is where the gift of love that this fund represents offers its healing and opportunity for growth. The response that honors the love this gift represents, the response that transmutes the heat of the fire of anguish into the light of personal growth and unity with others, is gratitude.
(John Woodall, MD is a Board Certified psychiatrist who lives in Newtown. His blog, The Resilient Life, is at www.johnwoodall.net and contains videos specially made for Newtown residents.)