“This Town is Any Town”
The words of the title above were spoken to me today, August 29, 2013. We have just completed a few days visiting an extraordinary city in Connecticut – Newtown. Eight children from that church lost their lives on December 14, 2012 in what is now known simply as the Newtown shooting.
We were visiting to plan a Spark of Life Grief Recovery retreat in Connecticut for the spring of 2014. We had no agenda, and no contacts to speak of. We passed a small Methodist church with a single car parked out front. Let’s start there, God seemed to suggest. An elderly woman greeted us and was so kind and helpful. This church had lost two 6 year-olds in the tragedy of that December day. She showed us a quilt that had been sent to them from strangers far away. Every name of the 20 children who had lost their lives was on that quilt. Tears formed easily in all of us as she described this special gift.
As we talked, we made sure that sensitivity graced our every word. We had already noticed a dignified solemnness to the city, and she told us that this was the first day of school for Newtown, and for those so deeply affected by that fateful, horrible, December morning. I can only imagine the conflicting feelings of so many that day.
As she talked, both Barry and I thought we had trespassed on holy ground, like we did not exactly belong there, sharing this memorable day with them. But her kind, encouraging, helpful words began to ease our uneasiness. She acted excited about Spark of Life, and thought many might just need the retreats. “Go to city hall and talk to some town officials” was her advice, and after giving us directions, we did just that.
The Newtown city government complex had moved to a new location, encompassing several huge buildings. Most were empty and we had no idea which one to begin with. We picked one that had a few cars out front, and in we went.
“You have come to the right person,” she began. “In my work, I have all the contact information of all those directly impacted by that day. You let me know when and where your retreat is, and I will be sure they know. Then of course they can decide if they would like to attend.”
And this was just day one – person two.
Oh, I almost forgot about another contact, which we actually talked to before beautiful lady # 1. She is the receptionist for a clinic, with many therapists and counselors. A few minutes explaining our mission was all it took for her to request many brochures so she could share with everyone who worked there. “This is so needed,” she said. She too had the same ‘look’ as the others.
Before we had to leave for a scheduled appointment in a near-bye city, we noticed the ‘look’ was everywhere – police officers, restaurant workers, men, women, etc. The look, though sober, was also hopeful. There appeared to be little ‘quit’ in these people.
We visited 3 potential sites for our retreat, talking to the sales reps that were sharing information about their properties. As each heard the Spark of Life story, each reacted in exactly the same way. “And how can you do these without charging?” was the most oft repeated question.
I love this question, because I can tell them that there is still good in people, that generous people from all over the country have given and continue to give so we can offer these at no cost to those who are hurting so deeply. I suggested that they partner with us in having these retreats for those who have experienced deep loss. Each seemed genuinely wanting to do just that.
Then today, we were told by someone to go to a large church in Newtown. While talking to the receptionist, a woman who is a member walks by on her way out of the building. She hears us talking about Spark of Life, and stops to talk with us. She leads a group in her home weekly of women who have lost children. Her husband works for the city of Newtown. She takes at least 25 brochures and will spread the word to everyone. We talk to her for 20-30 minutes. She too was encouraging: “”All of Newtown could use what you are offering in this retreat.”
One of her friends is a therapist who actually said the prayer after the shootings with President Obama there. We went to see the therapist, and though he was not in we left brochures and asked his friend to tell him about Spark of Life.
This woman also told us to go to another church, which had 8 children killed in the shootings. We went there and talked with the church secretary, who responded as everyone else did. She personally knew many of the children, and is good friends with one of the grandmothers who lost her granddaughter in the shootings. She also took many brochures and will spread the word.
I told her that we had noticed a dignified solemnness, yet an inspiring optimism in the city of Newtown, and how we deeply respected the town. She then said the words above, “David, this town is any town.”
Thank God for the honor and privilege to spend a few days in Connecticut! Please continue to lift this city, and these hurting families, up to the Father, and for Spark of Life, that somehow we will be used to help.
And to all of you who have given to Spark of Life, may you be assured that your gifts are helping many. Thank you, thank you, and thank you.