It’s Not ‘Newtown’


For all the meaningful declarations and politicking,  mobilizations on left and right,  piggy-backing on the horror to find channels for outrage about guns and school safety and mental health; for all the national breast-beating and blame, loathing and fear, what happened last year at Newtown was then and remains, simply and stubbornly, the awful deaths of people somebody loved—a teacher, a child, a cherished fixture in somebody’s universe, a star in the firmament of a friendship, a family, a school, a tree-lined street in a middle-class neighborhood in a small town in Connecticut.

For all its public symbolism, ‘’Newtown’ is not a generic name for the pain  bereft families feel this week. That pain has no name. Who could name it? There is no name, no word for it, not even ‘Newtown.’ It’s not symbolic of anything, this loss. It doesn’t belong to me or to some global “us.” It isn’t fodder for larger purposes, it isn’t even necessarily ennobling. It is, simply and stubbornly, intimate personal pain, sharp enough even after a year to slice away the body from the soul. It’s not “Newtown.’ It’s Charlotte, Chase, Jesse, Jack, Avielle, Olivia, Ana, Ben…

It’s understandable that ‘Newtown’ has become a cover term, a summation of every befuddling thing that’s wrong with Americans’ resistance to reason when it comes to violence and guns and mental health and self-protection and government tyranny, and… you name it. It’s inevitable that ‘Newtown’ should be employed as shorthand for horror and as a galvanizing slogan for the committed. But this week those who most wish not to remember—not to have to remember—are not remembering ‘Newtown,’ but a cowlick that will not lie down, a wobbly crayon drawing of a horse with a yellow mane, a squealing scream of glee as the swing gains speed and altitude, higher, higher, higher.

It’s good to have public observances of the anniversary. Good to mobilize again around the issues and declare commitment to change and love and peace, and  find beautiful ways to turn horror into life and grace. It’s good that many are active and vociferous and resolute.

What would also be good on the anniversary of such an unspeakable thing is not to speak, at least not all the time; to pause the impulse to make meaning and to make right and to make better; to observe a certain inner and outer restraint; to draw in a breath that, before it’s exhaled in resolutions and speeches and even in prayers, lets Newtown be for its length what it is, simply and stubbornly, a small town in Connecticut, and each horrific death the death of someone somebody loved.

Charlotte Bacon 2/22/06

Daniel Barden 9/25/05

Rachel Davino 7/17/83

Olivia Engel 7/18/06

Josephine Gay 12/11/05

Ana Marquez-Greene 4/4/06

Dylan Hockley 3/8/06

Dawn Hocksprung 6/28/65

Madeleine Hsu 7/10/06

Catherine Hubbard 6/8/06

Chase Kowalski 10/31/05

Nancy Lanza, 52

Jesse Lewis 6/30/06

James Mattioli 3/22/06

Grace McDonnell 11/04/05

Anne Marie Murphy 7/25/60

Emilie Parker 5/12/06

Jack Pinto 5/6/06

Noah Pozner 11/20/06

Caroline Previdi 9/7/06

Jessica Rekos 5/10/06

Avielle Richman 10/17/06

Lauren Rousseau 6/82

Mary Sherlach 2/11/56

Victoria Soto 11/04/85

Benjamin Wheeler 9/12/06

Allison Wyatt 7/3/06

3 thoughts on “It’s Not ‘Newtown’

  1. irrevspeckay

    Mary, this is beautiful. I appreciate the reminder to not do anything, particularly to impose meaning. Thank you. I want to ask aloud about the list of names. There were 27 people murdered in Newtown by Adam Lanza that day. I wonder why Nancy Lanza’s name didn’t make it on your list. I have my own ambivalence about including Adam’s name in such a list — and though I often speak of 28 senseless deaths that day, I still cannot yet (or ever?) bring myself to include his name along such a list. It seems disrespectful, and so I understand its absence. Yet, I find the ongoing invisible murder of Nancy Lanza to be a failure on so many levels… and one to which we religious folk should be wary of contributing.

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