I had this post almost finished when I took a break and, sure enough, I saw this article addressing what I was writing about.
So here’s my post, though somewhat different than what I had first intended.
If you in any way knew those souls who left this plane last week, I can’t write to you.
What I mean is, I can’t write anything that comes from a place of understanding. No way I can grasp your sorrow. So I will just offer my sympathies and love.
I have no desire to look at the articles that are starting to pop up featuring personal pictures of the victims, from when they were alive. Nothing I care to see. Not yet.
Friends who are parents, I see their posts on the Internet about explaining this to their children. I don’t have kids yet, so again I empathize yet don’t 100% relate.
However, I can offer something more than condolences to one group. I can write to the residents of Newtown and its surrounding areas who weren’t affected personally by the tragedy, but were affected due to their geographic proximity.
I live in Denver, Colorado. About twenty minutes from the theater where the Aurora shootings happened.
I have friends who live near the theater. My last part-time job was out near there, and I used to drive by it on break.
And, in 1999, I was at work when we all tuned in our radios to the live coverage of Columbine. (Two coworkers hurriedly left that day, their children were students. Thankfully, they weren’t hurt.)
Those first weeks after the Aurora theater tragedy, it was surreal to see international media outlets showing buildings you drive by and shopping centers where you stopped into a store one time, years ago.
Like you see it on TV and suddenly the mundanities of running some errand years ago appears in your conscious memory. Another story is in front of a different location, which happens to be a different retail store than what it was, years ago, when you stopped in there to pick something up. You find yourself mentally scrambling to find the name of that old store and remember what it was that you bought.
Then you remember the reason why that picture of that storefront was on that channel or Internet site. Which freaks you out. So you wonder how the brain works, why it stores some mundane memory which needs violence to rejoin the conscious mind. You wonder about us humans and the future.
Seeing the shots of chain restaurants nearby in the news footage is another type of eery.
Like, most of the people viewing the shots will identify with the logo and restaurant concept they see in the picture or screen—and most likely they have eaten at one of their different stores—but they don’t know THAT ONE. That particular store, the one on the corner of WHAT IS OUR WORLD COMING TO? and WHY DID THAT HAPPEN?, just a few blocks from where the tragedy occurred.
You didn’t even really know that one before, but suddenly you do because it flashes on the screen for a few seconds and you remember that one day at the old job, trying to decide between that fast food joint or the place a block away.
Now, it’s in the background shot of some news story.
A news story that would have never been written. But a bunch of innocent people just got killed, so it’s time to write stories like these.
Newtown, I can tell you that since the killer chose suicide, your town will be the subject of follow-up what-made-him-do-it speculative articles for years to come. Your mind will be far elsewhere, then you’ll be thinking of it again.
Newtown, it doesn’t go away living near something like this, though it does diminish. What you are going through doesn’t compare to the families, friends, coworkers—but you still need space and support to grieve. Those first few days, I remember thinking that at least a few of the ghosts of the theater goers were still hanging around town for a while before heading on to another plane of existence. Maybe they were still going to catch the movie, I didn’t know.
Months after the theater shooting, even before the tragedy in Newtown, I felt Colorado wasn’t quite done healing. That shock wore off, but thoughts about it still found their way into conversations—friends know people that almost went to that show but decided to cancel last-minute, others had a co-worker whose teenager’s friend worked at the theater but was off that night.
And then, the talk would turn to that subject for a while. Away from something happier (or the Election), to the subject of death. Then sometimes the conversation would move to gun control, and now the mood becomes heated because there are differing points of view in the room.
When you live in the area around evil like this, you’re removed yet involved. Thankfulness at being spared mixes with irrational guilt for a bit. But then you realize your role as a member of this larger community is to be there for those whose connections were closer to the tragedy than your own.
And you try to be there for them. Whatever that means.
Newtown, I’m a member of that larger community called Planet Earth. I wasn’t affected nearly as closely by the events of last week like you were.
But I’m here for you.
Also, for anyone reading this, I hear this is a good address for donations.
SandyHook School Support Fund
c/o Newtown Savings Bank
39 Main St
Newtown, CT 06470