It was a beautiful morning here in Connecticut. A light snow was falling, just enough to freshen up the snow that was deposited here during last weekends blizzard that left 3 feet of snow. Nothing like that today, but the snow on the trees and the snow on the ground sure made for some beautiful scenery. I woke early this morning, and decided to go for a drive. I got on I-84 and headed west through the mountains. Simply beautiful. I traveled past Waterbury, a larger town that looked like an old industrial area, with large brick buildings that have some character to them, not like the plants and factories built within the last 50 years. A few more miles up the road, a road sign appeared, Newtown, next 2 exits.
Like much of the world and many of you, I watched the events of December 14, 2012 unfold on the news with tears in my eyes and anger in my heart. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t rest. I couldn’t clear my head. I still think of those families almost daily. Now I was just over a mile from where those innocent people lost their lives that day. I will admit that I considered visiting the town while I was here, but didn’t want to be a part of the disruption that this community has experienced these last two months. Newtown, specifically Sandy Hook, seemed to be a beautiful small town on TV. I’m sure it looked beautiful with the freshly fallen snow, so I decided to just pass through, with no intention of going to the area of the school. I went through the middle of town and looped back around, and found myself headed towards the school. I pulled into Tredwell Memorial Park, where the media compound was, and where the press conferences were held after the tragedy. I was the only car in the parking lot. I took a few minutes to call Chrissie and Carolina. I’ve never missed them more than I did at that moment. This was about as close as I wanted to get. I couldn’t see the school or the Fire Department that was next to the driveway, but I was able to recognize
some of the landmarks from the newscasts. I said a prayer, got back in my car, and went out the way I came in.
There are only subtle signs that a major event happened here. There are green and white ribbons on many light posts and signs, and small hand painted wood stars in many colors with small messages on the utility poles. Words like “wish” and “love” adorn them. The only large sign I saw was on a railroad bridge headed into town. It was a simple white vinyl sign with lots of signatures that said “We Are With You Newtown from Tuson, AZ”. Besides that, if you woke up in a car without knowing where you were, you would have no idea.
I pulled into the Starbucks for a cup of coffee, and an opportunity to gather my thoughts before driving back to the hotel. I ordered my drink, and found a seat. The people here have obviously returned to their normal daily routines, and this place was busy, but it felt different. The people I have encountered since my plane landed yesterday are a lot like those in Baltimore. They keep to themselves, usually don’t offer a “hello” or “good morning” unless spoken to first, and don’t make eye contact in passing. Not in Newtown. Everybody greets everybody, even with just a nod or a smile. There were quite a few children in the coffee shop, and every time one of them spoke, every single person in the room would look up and smile. It’s clear that every single child in their community is looked at as a gift and a blessing to everyone there. It was truly heartwarming and something I have never experienced before. This community had reinvented itself through tragedy into something every community should be like.
One of my goals while in Connecticut was to find a geocache. For every state you find a geocache in, you are a awarded a “souvenir” that goes on your profile. Since I have no idea when I will be in this state agin, I figured I better earn it now. While sipping on my coffee, I searched for a nearby cache that I could still find even with all the snow on the ground. “Visit Sandy Hook FD #1″ appeared on the screen. I stopped. I knew this was probably located right next to the school, but decided to read the description anyway. It was placed here by a member of the fire department way back in 2005. The page said it had been found 202 times, but there were 244 notes on it from people all over the world, expressing their condolences and sympathies to those impacted. This cache was special, and I wanted to find it. I finished my coffee, got into the car, and headed towards Riverside Road.
I saw the firehouse and the driveway for the school. The large memorial and the Sandy Hook School sign are gone, but a couple signs left by mourners are on the signpost. The driveway is covered in snow, untouched. It’s clear no vehicles or pedestrians have been down that road since before the blizzard, and it is blocked by road cones. About 250 feet down the road, concrete barriers provide a more permanent blockade to the school building. I wouldn’t have gone down there if I could. The parking lot at the firehouse was full of vehicles, but nobody was outside. I would guess they were having a meeting or event of some sort. I parked in the back, followed my app to where the cache was hidden, and stopped at the right front corner of the building, the spot closest to where that iconic Sandy Hook School sign once was. I found the container quickly, signed the log sheet, and put it back. Nobody came out and questioned what I was doing, and nobody pulling into the parking lot stopped either. I’m sure they were used to seeing people digging around those bushes looking for it long before the shooting occurred. Before walking back to the car, I turned around and looked at that signpost one last time, bowed my head and said a quick prayer for those lost and those left behind.
On my way out of town, I stopped at a small gift shop to get a drink for the ride home. On the counter, they had green magnetic ribbons for your car to remember the “SHS Angels”. Many of the vehicles in town had them, and since all the money went to the charity started by the town, I bought two. The girl at the counter asked if I was from around here, and I admitted I was not, and explained I was in the area for a wedding. She told me to enjoy my visit, enjoy the wedding, and thanked me for the donation. Kindness to an admitted intruder.
For a community that lost so much, it seems so much was gained. Sandy Hook is a beautiful, small, New England town, filled with people who were forced to consider what really matters in life. They have clearly bonded together to overcome what they have experienced, and now seem to treat each other the way all people should treat each other, all the time. Part of me feels guilty for stopping in the first place. I know they have been bombarded with people wanting to leave mementos, offer condolences, and those sick people who just want to be close to where murders have happened. I am grateful to the people of Newtown and Sandy Hook for allowing me to visit their town, feel their warmth, kindness, love, and resilience. Even though I was not a local, for an hour, I felt like a part of the community. Sandy Hook is indeed a special place that will move past this terrible time in their history, and be forever changed because of it.