A Strange Day

Yesterday was a strange, strange day here in my little corner of the world.  It has been very raw here since the events of 12.14.12.  I’ve written about some of it.  But we knew yesterday was going to be the day that instead of being neighbors to the events everyone was looking at on the news, we were going to be the event on the news.

The Sandy Hook school children were starting school here yesterday.

I knew the building of course, from having lived here.  My children never attended school at Chalk Hill, because it closed before my kids were of age to go there.  But they attended summer programs there, and I’ve been involved with this or that project there from time to time with my volunteering within the school system.  It was amazing to see the tired old structure, which had been the topic of many harsh discussions in  our town, become a jewel transformed from the rough state it had been in.  Watching the moving trucks bring in the students’ belongings and furniture, seeing the dozens of people working to clean and refurbish the building has been moving, exciting, amazing.  And just a few days before the school was set to open its arms for these kids, these survivors, a new sign was put in front of the school, proclaiming it theirs.  Giving them ownership.  A place to belong.  A new place.

The news trucks started showing up the night before.  They were supposed to be located at the park at the end of my street, rather than anywhere near the school.  And there they were, as I drove my daughter to piano lessons on Wednesday evening.  Six or seven satellite trucks.  By the morning, there were at least twenty.  My daughter snapped a photo of the trucks from the bus on the way to school.  She doesn’t attend the middle school that sits next door to the new Sandy Hook; she attends the STEM academy a few miles away, at our high school.  But the two schools share buses, and so she drives onto the campus every day after school.  It’s given her an insight to this tragedy and our response to it that few have.  She’s seen it all, first hand.

After I packed the kids on the bus, and watched the media descend, I went over to the warehouse in Newtown where the donations are being kept.  An email had arrived two days before Christmas with instructions on how to sign up to volunteer, and I signed up for as many slots as I could.  I drove past the new Sandy Hook on my way; there were police on every side street leading up to the school and blocking the entrance.  There were hand made signs, balloons and ribbons on the road that the buses would drive in on.  It was hopeful, welcoming.

Then I crossed into Newtown.

There were more reminders here, but they were sad, somber memorials.  26 wooden angels on sticks on the side of the road.  A heartshaped sign with one simple word:  Peace.  A gas station with “God Bless” below their pricing.  A big green and white ribbon with 26 stars around it.

With that in my head, I pulled into the warehouse.

The warehouse was huge, and bustling.  There were dozens of people working.  Donations from all over the world lined tables, piled on the floors.  There were school supplies, toys, blankets, food.  But most of all, stuffed animals.

Thousands and thousands and thousands of them.  Heartbreaking, some with notes attached.   From Iowa, Georgia, Arizona, Florida.  All over.  My job for the entire shift was to sort through them.  Teddy bears separated out from generic stuffed animals (dogs, cats, penguins, even snakes!, you name it).  Small, medium, large.  Sorted and counted and boxed, over and over and over.  A whole room of us doing this.  There had to have been ten thousand of them sorted, boxed and loaded onto pallets while I was there yesterday.

The people working were a mix of locals like me, disaster relief employees, senior citizens and a church group from Florida who had driven up with a trailer full of donations and then stayed to volunteer.  All of us focused on the task in front of us.  Very few of us spoke about the unspeakable thing that brought us all there to do the work we were doing.  We were young and old, all walks of life, united in tragedy.

I drove away from my shift with tears in my eyes and lead in my chest.  On the way home, more news trucks down the street from me.  I actually drove into the park to get a closer look, I couldn’t believe it.  My tiny little town, our small corner of the world.  Forever changed, forever different, forever on the map of grief of our country.

It was a strange, strange day.  I can’t imagine what it was like for those families.  As much as I am having a hard time processing this grief, I know it is a gift that any of those families wish they had.  My ephemeral sadness as opposed to their gut wrenching loss.

So I’ll keep doing what I can, volunteering at the warehouse, taking any chance we have to help the families here locally, working with our PTOs to support theirs.  And I’ll keep on living, because that’s what we have to do.  Even if sometimes it is with a heavy heart and tears in my eyes.

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