It has been about nine months since the Board of Selectmen appointed 12 volunteers to the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission. We learned from the panel last week that in that time, the commission has begun an “outreach process” to various groups in the community that will last for several months. When they were first appointed, First Selectman Pat Llodra warned them that the process of forming some kind of consensus on a community memorial for those lost at the Sandy Hook School on 12/14 would take time. It is clear from the commission’s great caution and care in approaching their task that they took the first selectman’s words to heart. In fact, in the preface to a list of frequently asked questions released by the commission last week, we discovered that “it has yet to be determined if a memorial will be constructed in the community.”
Memorials take many forms. Private efforts have already installed commemorations of the tragedy on the roof of the Sandy Hook firehouse and in the back lot of St John’s Church in Sandy Hook Center. There are also countless personal tributes on cars, counters, and country lanes all over town. We hope, however, that the Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial Commission can build enough momentum before too long at least to commit to some community expression of collective grief and remembrance.
Public memorials can be as elaborate as the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in lower Manhattan and as simple as the five evergreens by a fencerow in an empty pasture in the Amish community in Nickel Mine, Penn. Each in its own way reveals that people have drawn together in response to unfathomable loss to provide a permanent place for personal reflection. The greatest and most enduring memorials, after all, are constructed in hearts and minds of those who find the place and the peace to stand quietly for a moment with their own thoughts.
By all means, Newtown should take the time it needs to find the right place and the right forms to evoke that delicate and precious balance between memory and hope that is slowly finding equilibrium in this community. The town has already designated $65,440 in donated funds for the construction of a public Sandy Hook Memorial, not including money in support of that purpose that may have been collected by private groups. It took eight years for the lives lost at Columbine High School to be honored at a permanent memorial in Colorado. The 9/11 Memorial and Museum took a decade to bring into being. In Newtown, the creation of a permanent memorial will take the time it takes — no shorter, no longer. But we should wait no longer to resolve that it will be built.