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Images & Voices of Hope | December 2, 2020

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Media coverage shows how Newtown community is moving from heartbreak to hope

Media coverage shows how Newtown community is moving from heartbreak to hope

Headlines in recent days have highlighted the intersection of two tragic shootings: the school shooting in Centennial, Colo., and the one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Stories about the Colorado shooting are understandably still focused on the “what happened?” question. The Newtown anniversary stories I found most compelling were the ones that looked back over the past year and answered: “what’s changed?”

Some news outlets did an especially good job showing how families are healing from the tragedy. The stories showed how multifaceted healing is, and how we all heal in different ways, at our own pace.

Here are four ways the Newtown community and those close to it are healing:

Committing acts of kindness

In an interview with NPR’s Scott Simon, a local rabbi Shaul Praver said the cure to hatred is kindness. He’s been imparting this message in hopes of encouraging people to be kind to one another, and to be conscious of the impact kindness has.

“If somebody discovered the cure for cancer, nobody would think that that discovery had only a local value for the people in the room that discovered it,” Praver told Simon. “They would say that it has universal value. We have found the cure for the social disease of violence, hatred and bigotry, and that cure is good old-fashioned loving kindness. When everyone practices that it does change the atmosphere of a room, of a town, of a community, of a state and a country. And so, it is not of only local value, but it is of universal value.”

Turning to music, art

Composer Steven Sametz, who grew up near Newtown, is putting together a requiem for the children who were killed in the Newtown shootings. Sametz, a Lehigh University music professor, is creating it with the help of a $25,000 music prize from the University of Connecticut. In a piece about the requiem, The Associated Press’ Michael Rubinkam writes:

Musicians often respond to tragedy by working out their emotions in song and helping provide catharsis to others. Music played a huge part in the one-year observance of the Sept. 11 attacks, for example, with choral groups around the world performing Mozart’s “Requiem” on the anniversary of the moment when the first plane hit in New York.

“That’s what musicians do in times of crisis,” said Jeffrey Renshaw, director of the Sackler Composition Prize program at UConn. “It helps the healing process, both for the performers and the audience. Everyone has things that they can do, and that’s the thing that we can do.

Sametz plans to ask elementary school children around the U.S. to send him words and pictures that symbolize their thoughts on loss and tragedy.

Music has also been part of the healing process for jazz musician Jimmy Greene, whose 6-year-old daughter Ana Márquez-Greene was killed in the shootings. Not long after his daughter died, Greene created an album that celebrates her short life and his son Isaiah, who was at Sandy Hook the day of the shootings but wasn’t hurt. Greene tells Reuters:

“Music is what I’ve always done. … It just naturally follows that music would be in times of joy, in times of grief, in times of whatever. Music is a way of expression.”

“I feel very blessed to have music as a means of expression,” he said. “It is helpful in ways dealing with the grief and the loss, the pain and the sadness that I deal with every day.”

Art has also played a role in some families’ healing process, the article explains:

Art can help people grapple with grief because it taps emotions that are beyond language, as does deep tragedy, said Donna Schuurman, executive director of The Dougy Center, a Portland, Oregon, support service that focuses on grieving children.

“Real grief is deeper than words. It screams, it cries, it’s from the soul, from the gut,” Schuurman said. “Art can touch people and help them feel without having to make it be words.”

Starting projects/foundations, spreading meaningful messages

The Newtown Bee published a story highlighting dozens of efforts Newtown parents have undertaken to raise awareness and keep their children’s memory alive.

“Means of healing in the immediate aftermath of the murders have grown into ways to continue to heal as grief reconciles itself to the new normal in Newtown,” the Bee’s Nancy K. Crevier writes.

Shortly after their daughter died, saxophone player Greene and his wife Nelba Márquez-Greene created the Ana Grace Project, which aims to build connections, community and compassion. Earlier this month, they held a conference for the project, which attracted about 500 people, NPR’s Tovia Smith reported.

Smith’s compelling story looks at how the family is trying to promote healing and prevent violence. Márquez-Greene told Smith:

“People say to me, ‘I can’t believe what that monster did to your baby!’ Well, you know, it’s true something terrible happened to Ana, and that was a terrible day. But if we even use that language, ‘monster,’ if we talk like that, we already make a separation between us and them. And it doesn’t work that way.”

Márquez-Greene says her own compassion continues to be tested — like at her conference, when she was setting up a candle for each of the lives lost on Dec. 14. She thought of the shooter, who killed himself, and his mother, who he also killed.

“Do we have a table with 26 candles, or do we have a table with 28?” she says. “We put 28, because at the end of the day, it’s a gesture of the compassion that we need to move forward.” 

Deciding to choose love

“We choose love” has become an important motto in Newtown throughout the past year. Scarlett Lewis, whose son Jesse was killed in the shootings, created the Jesse Lewis We Choose Love Foundation to show that choosing love over anger can change – and save – lives.

Similar to Lewis, Márquez-Greene has also embraced this motto. Focusing on what she can control has given her courage to keep moving forward. She tells Smith: “At the end of the day, I don’t know why this happened. … I didn’t get to choose it. But I get to choose my response now. I do get to choose now.”

She chooses love over hate, and chooses to be there for her son.

“That is my job on the planet,” she told Smith. “If I do nothing else but raise a son who is able to survive this tragedy and still come out able to love and receive love from others, that will be our greatest victory.”