My mother grew up in Newtown, Conn., more exactly in Sandy Hook on Crestwood Drive, a road that backs up to Sandy Hook Elementary School. She attended Sandy Hook Elementary through fourth grade. St. Rose of Lima opened a school after she was in junior high, so her brothers and sister attended elementary school there. My mother was a parishioner at St. Rose growing up and my parents were married at that church in 1970.
Obviously, in the last few days Newtown, Sandy Hook and St. Rose of Lima have become national news. For me, though, they have always meant something important. My parents would pile me and my four siblings into the family van every summer and we’d make the drive up to Newtown to stay for a week or so at a time. Newtown meant fun when I was younger: my cousins lived there, in particular, my cool, older cousins, Jamie and Jessica, along with my mom’s six siblings—including five arm-punching and joke-cracking uncles, two of whom still work as volunteer firefighters.
Our drives always ended at the house on Crestwood Drive, where usually the aunts and uncles and cousins were waiting to greet us. Often, in the waning daylight, Jamie and I would cross Crestwood Drive and duck through the bushes onto the ball field with the backstop at Sandy Hook Elementary school to play catch or soccer or whatever we felt like until we were called in for dinner. The cleanness of these childhood memories fit neatly into Newtown, a small-town, good-people place, where everyone knew my uncles and aunts and cousins.
I think I probably remember it best, as the oldest child in my family. But there came a time when our collective sports and camp schedules made it impossible for us to keep going up to Connecticut. Without even realizing, doubtlessly because I was so caught up in my own life, our trips just stopped one summer. It had been a long time, but I was in Newton again this summer for my cousin’s wedding. Just for a night, but it felt good to be there.
On the way to the wedding, I insisted on going up and back on Crestwood Drive to see the house that was so important in my childhood. Just as I had hoped, nothing had changed. The same white house with black shutters, same gravel on the road, same good feeling around the town. I barely noticed Sandy Hook Elementary over the short fence as we drove by.
On Friday morning, I was in court in the Washington early to do some filing and was chatting with a fellow attorney about his holiday plans to drive north after Christmas to Connecticut where his parents still reside to baptize his child. I mentioned my mother’s connection to the state, as I almost always do when Connecticut comes up. He said he knew of Newtown, and we talked for a few more minutes before heading into the courtroom for the better part of the day.
We of course did not know it, but as we were talking Friday morning, teachers and children at Sandy Hook Elementary School were terrified, trying to stop a massacre. I didn’t learn anything about the shooting until I left the courthouse hours after it had occurred. My wife was frantic on the phone, telling me that my aunt, who still lives in the house she grew up in, was in “lockdown” because the police were using the driveway and front yard as a staging area. When I finally spoke to my mother, she, too, was very shaken up.
As circumstances had it, I spent Saturday morning at a previously scheduled service event with other alumni from Loyola University Maryland. We went to Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes in Bethesda and then headed to the National Center for Children and Families for a few hours to sort donated gifts by ages and gender. At Mass, the priest ended his homily by suggesting that perhaps we should all ask God’s mercy for the role we play in contributing to the chaos. I immediately repeated that line to myself, wondering what I was doing to make the world less chaotic.
This line from the homily was drive home again when we arrived to sort the toys — we were brought into a large room where bags and bags of donated toys had been dumped into a haphazard pile in the middle of the floor. Chaos was the word that came immediately to mind. A few hours later, we had restored some order to the room and organized the toys. It was impossible, though, to look at, pick up and sort all of those toys without thinking each time of the children who had just been killed in Newtown.
I am, quite frankly, not sure how all of this relates to what happened in Connecticut on Friday and how it is affecting me — and all of us. I am having difficulty making any sense of what has happened in my mother’s hometown. I have a son in first grade and a daughter in preschool, so I have had trouble watching the news coverage with them around. When I do catch a snippet, it is nearly impossible for me to watch without crying.
I am sure that my life is much, much less chaotic than the lives of those whose parents, children, sisters, brothers, sons or daughters were senselessly murdered Friday. I am sure my life is less chaotic than those of my relatives in Newtown, on the scene and close to it, with friends whose children attend school in town.
For me, the only thing that has happened is an idyllic spot filled with cousins and family and small-town feeling and values has been forever altered. I know that it is difficult as I move through what often feels like the chaos of my life to appreciate so many of those small things — a week in Newtown with aunts, uncles and cousins, time with my own family, playing ball until dinner, the simple pleasures of small town life. The shooting Friday has brought the these wonderful aspects of living back into clear focus.
I hope that the intensity of my emotion arising out of these events is indicative of my ability to continue to be able to recall the beauty of what is simple and good amid so much chaos.