Waking up Monday morning, I flipped on “Good Morning Connecticut” in a hotel room. WTHN, a New Haven-based station, was airing a story about a playground under construction in honor of a victim of the Newtown mass shootings in 2012. It was a stark reminder that the memories of murder never really go away.
All around the state, there are little reminders of the carnage that tore apart Sandy Hook Elementary school that day. A flag at half-staff here, a bumper sticker there or a prominently displayed ribbon where you wouldn’t expect it. Although Old Saybrook is nearly an hour away from Newtown, it didn’t feel like it.
Later that day in Newport and nearby Providence, Rhode Island, it felt like ‘Boston Strong’ gear was everywhere. At one restaurant in the coastal town, the phrase that was coined after the Boston Marathon bombings that killed 3 was scripted on their official uniforms. “I don’t think they’ll ever change them,” our waiter told me.
Watching the aftermath of a mass shooting in your hometown amidst local reminders of other tragedies that devastated communities provides a scary perspective. After getting in touch with my family to make sure everyone was safe, I turned the TV back on. You begin to realize that the verbiage, the machinations and exercises of grief we go through publicly have become so routine that we barely take the time to process. At least, that’s the luxury we are afforded when it’s not happening in our back yard.
Then, your mayor and police chief suddenly become national faces and the streets you associate with baseball are looked at only as crime scenes to the rest of the country. You think of all the kids that get gunned down in the city every week that get no attention at all and you think of all the families that are waking up this morning down one person. You find yourself sitting in a coffee shop in a vacation town shedding a tear, wondering how our society allows cities, communities and residents to go through with this month after month, year after year.
I used to think the ‘Boston Strong’ mantra was an oddball mindset from a city I’d never been to and couldn’t really understand. A mawkish term of bravado that took the place of actual feelings. But as the death toll numbers climbed yesterday, and the paranoia and fear became even more clear, I found myself looking for a similar term. Something to tell me that the carnage that besieged the Navy Yard Monday is not something we’ll let define who we are as a city, no matter how divided or otherwise segregated we may be.
No catch phrase will ever replace what the lives of Monday’s shooting victims meant to those important to them. And no ribbon or pin will ever give those who survived gunshot wounds their flesh back. But, there’s something to be said for a rally cry when strangers are forced to mourn together. It shows that people care. No matter where they are, or who they are, there is compassion.
Capital compassion, if you will.