I live in a small town in Connecticut that is just a few miles from Sandy Hook and Newtown. Our school sports teams play in the same league. The devastation of last Friday has touched people I know. The blow that was struck hit very close to home both physically and emotionally. You see, I have a 6 year old daughter, an 8 year old son and an 8 year old grand daughter.
So, just to be clear, this weekend sucked.
Monday morning I awoke and something was different. I felt the need to normalize; to not let those horrible events control me anymore.
I stepped outside and felt the chill of the New England air in late fall. A gentle mist drizzled, touching my skin like a whisper. The early light of sunrise was making the mist a slate grey, turning the tall oaks and maples into an etching an artist would be proud to have crafted. Breathing deep, the mustiness of the forest reached inside me and I felt myself touched by the earth. I grinned as my glasses were misted over with rain and the world took on a sparkle. I leaned my head back, closed my eyes and just felt human.
You see, I’ve come to learn what it means to be a New Englander. We are liberal and conservative at the same time and the dichotomy fits nicely with the environment. At the worst of times we come together like no community I have ever lived in. At the best of times we don’t take anything for granted.
The town I live in was founded in 1740. It is about 25 square miles and has 14,000 residents. We have a parade on the 4th of July that is less than half a mile long. It consists mostly of fire trucks, school’s sports teams and pretty much anyone who wants to walk along. The town lines the streets and cheers for all the participants the way small towns do. It reminds me that freedom isn’t a theatrical production. It is a spirit. I see that spirit down the street in a cemetery where people who fought in the Revolutionary War are buried. We take freedom seriously in New England and understand its cost.
This morning, as I shuffled my little ones off to school, I thought of their teachers and of the colleagues of those teachers in Sandy Hook. The men and women who faced that gunman showed us what being a responsible adult means. It reminded me of the patriots buried a short distance away. They were ordinary people who put down their lives so we could have these freedoms that are so admired around the world.
They did it without thinking of flags and parades. Their actions stemmed from them being responsible adults. People who took that charge to protect and uphold freedom to heart by putting their lives on the line to protect our rights and out children.
That freedom is not a gift, it is an obligation for us to act responsibly. Freedom without responsibility is anarchy and anarchy is unacceptable. Nor is freedom an absolute. It is a series of compromises and commitments that we make with each other. Freedom is a road we are carving together. We agree with each other what the guardrails are and we are free to operate within those guardrails. In other words, we expect each other to be responsible adults and do what is right even when the situation is the most dire. Freedom is honed by the way we live day to day.
It really is just that simple.
So, on behalf of 20 little angels and 6 heros, I am going to remind myself every day to be a responsible adult by listening, showing respect and being willing to compromise when it is for all our benefit. It is the most personal commitment I can offer.