“Fear unchecked grows exponentially. Love poured forth has the power to remove it.” –Marianne Williamson
When I reflect on the choice my husband and I made 20 years ago to begin our life together in a quiet country town in Connecticut, what comes to mind is the distant sound of a crowing rooster. Having grown up in suburban New York, roosters evoked memories of children’s books about life on the farm; simple, idyllic and far removed from our daily pressures, where story plots revolved around domestic animals and interactions between rural townsfolk.
Shortly after we got married and moved to Newtown, we stepped outside of our house one summer night and marveled at the intensity of the stars, without the glow of the city or even street lights to compete with their brightness. The open fields of tall grass, horse pastures and dairy farms were among the ingredients that filled out that childhood image of our ideal place to live. Far away from it all, the two of us set out to build a life and a family together in our own little Eden, surrounded by the sounds of spring peepers, crickets and the crowing of our neighbors’ roosters.
Many years later, when grand-scale terrorism visited our country on 9/11 and we lived for a while under the potential threat of further violence, our young family experienced the devastation along with the rest of America. But we also felt some measure of protection, cocooned in our little rural town where the troubles of the world — it seemed – could not quite reach. We believed we were far enough away from New York or any other city to avoid being targeted by terrorist acts. I was 6 months pregnant with my third child when the towers came down, and I regretted the upheaval and uncertainty of the world that my baby would soon enter. At the same time, I knew that she had her own protection. Swimming in my womb, she was safe and loved. And when the time was right, the pretty yellow room we painted and decorated sat waiting to shelter our child inside the walls of our happy home.
Because she was born with a life-threatening infection, our baby’s first days were focused simply on keeping her alive. To our great relief, she quickly overcame her illness. At least part of the credit for turning her condition around went to the antibiotics and excellent care she received in our hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. During the first hours after our baby’s birth, she lay in a bassinet with electrodes connected to wires all over her little body to monitor her vital signs. Soon after the frightening delivery, I entered the NICU for the first time to visit her, feeling a little afraid to let myself fall in love with my daughter. But as I lay my hand on her tiny chest and whispered messages to her — that Mommy was there and that she was deeply loved — the dials connected to those wires began to creep upwards, indicating that her condition was improving. I continued to stay by her side and while the medicine did its work repairing her body, I believe so did my loving presence.
My family learned firsthand that day that love is a powerful antidote. Its opposite is fear, which feeds the belief that in order to be safe, we need to take up arms and protect ourselves against our fellow human beings. Fear is behind the voice that tells us there’s only so much of anything to go around and we must therefore compete against each other, becoming winners only when others lose. This kind of thinking arises and is sustained most easily in the absence of loving, supportive ties between people. But what truly keeps us strong — what I believe protects us best — is positive connections, the support of our communities, and the regular exchange of empathy, kindness and generosity. Every day and in every situation, we are free to choose love over fear.
The people of Newtown have been embraced by the country since 12/14 with sorrow, compassion and support. We have also received admiration because we responded with statements of love and resolve in the face of what could have been the strongest reason in our collective memory to embrace fear. When we might have turned away, we chose instead to turn toward each other.
In the past five months since the shooting at Sandy Hook School, I admit there have been moments when I’ve had the fleeting urge to run away and escape from the sadness and pain in my town. But just as quickly, I remind myself that my husband and I made our escape long ago, which is precisely how we ended up in Newtown. While we are all hurting terribly since the shocking murders that happened here, we have not closed our hearts. So today, as we join together in response to terrible tragedy with a commitment to creating change and strengthening our community, I am surer than ever that my husband and I made the right choice. We are Newtown. And we choose love.