As the people of Newtown prepared for their Thanksgiving celebrations this week, the community once again found itself in the spotlight. This time, the nation’s attention was drawn to the release on Monday of a long-anticipated report by the state’s attorney investigating the 12/14 shootings at the Sandy Hook School — the event for which no one gives thanks. The 48-page summary report, and the voluminous ancillary appendices, were served up to the waiting media, which after months of subsisting on the drip-drip of leaks by anonymous sources were thirsty for the flood of details of this unfathomable crime. For Newtown, however, the important details of that day are written in deeply etched personal remembrances: sights, sounds, and particularly the faces of friends, of family, of children. These faces are the essential aspect of all that we give thanks for this Thanksgiving.
There is a kind of grassroots gratitude that has always been a part of community life in Newtown. At this moment in the town’s history, that gratitude appears to be growing in every direction. This week, we report on a new book published by local writer Sharon Cohen, Newtown Moving Forward, A Community Faces The Future After Adversity. The book is essentially a compendium of compassion, listing roughly 75 local organizations that have been created in the aftermath of 12/14 to engage the people of Newtown and the world at-large in the pursuit of purposeful lives. (See story.) The Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at Trinity Church Sunday evening left it to the children of the town to articulate Newtown’s attitude of gratitude. One after another, seven youths stood to say thank you for the things we all cherish: family, friends, tolerance, forgiveness, and a town where these things are esteemed.
It turns out that giving thanks is itself a blessing. Research conducted several years ago by psychologists at the University of California at Davis found that people who are routinely grateful enjoy emotional and physical benefits that others do not, including better sleep, lower stress, and a greater inclination for exercise. Despite the various grave portraits of our community sketched by the media that arrived once again en masse to parse the details of the horrific crime that occurred here, this Thanksgiving we choose to focus on a grateful Newtown rather than an aggrieved Newtown. The town’s loss is incalculable, but its capacity for affirming life through appreciation and gratitude has no limit.