By Maryann Murtha
Special to The Washington Post
I live in Newtown, Conn. Most of you have heard of my town by now. It’s a sweet place, with a $2 movie theater, a two-hour Labor Day parade and an old-fashioned general store. Our 100-foot flagpole stands tall in the middle of Main Street, a symbol of our small-town-America status.
You know also that Newtown is suffering. A man shot and killed 20 of our schoolchildren and six of our educators in a matter of minutes on Dec. 14. Since then, green and white ribbons, the colors of Sandy Hook Elementary School, adorn our jackets, as we console each other and proclaim that we are Newtown Strong. Our shared grief is so thick you can almost hold it in your hands. As a town we weep unexpectedly and openly, just as our governor, Dannel Malloy, a tough former assistant district attorney from Brooklyn, choked up as he spoke during the opening of Connecticut’s legislative session. As one woman told me, standing by the cucumbers in the grocery store, tears welling in her eyes, “You just never know when it’s gonna hit ya.”
As a community, we are shattered, but we are buoyed by the strength and grace of strangers. There is the artist from Winder, Ga., who hand-painted and mailed 100 shiny red-and-black ladybug stones to Newtown Youth and Family Services on New Year’s Day, because ladybugs bring luck and love. “Share them with anyone in need of a smile,” she wrote. There are the folks who made by hand dozens of children’s cooking aprons with Winnie the Pooh, Big Bird and Bob the Builder fabrics. The aprons, an icon of innocence and hope, would have been a perfect fit for the children whose parents had to bury them just before Christmas. At the town bagel store, as Anderson Cooper chatted with a nun who stopped by from nearby St. Rose parish, a man from Manhattan phoned in to pay for breakfast for all the patrons. There have been countless acts of kindness and generosity, and Newtown is most grateful.
Many have asked, What can we do? Well, here’s my answer: For the sake of the victims, their families, Sandy Hook and Newtown, call the shooting 12/14.
The national media have, insensitively, begun to call 12/14 “Sandy Hook” or “Newtown.” Listening to TV the other night, I heard someone say, “We just don’t want another Newtown.” Ouch.
Our friends in Columbine know. Our friends in Aurora know. Our friends in Oklahoma City know. Having your town’s name synonymous with an evil act does not aid the healing process; in fact, it adds to the pain and casts shadows. Here in Newtown, we have seen enough darkness. We need your light, your love and your support.
In her eloquent address to the nation, Newtown’s first selectman, Pat Llodra, claimed that the tragedy would be a defining moment for our town but that it would not define us. Yet, if the media succeed in naming this unthinkable event Newtown or Sandy Hook, it will define us.
Call the tragedy 12/14. That’s not only the day it happened; it’s also the number of beautiful children and talented educators taken from us that day: 12 + 14 26. If we call that day 12/14, we shift the focus from where these horrors happened to when they happened and how many lives were lost. And, sadly, we also know this could have happened anywhere.
In 2001, al-Qaida’s attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania were initially dubbed the attack on the World Trade Center. But the folks mourning the attacks on the Pentagon and Flight 93 spoke up, and the moniker morphed into 9/11.
The media were sensitive; citizens were sensitive. Let’s do that again.
Newtown, Conn., would rather hear “I don’t want to see another 12/14” than “I don’t want to see another Newtown.” Further, a Commission on 12/14 sounds better than a Commission on Sandy Hook. I suspect that the people who live in Newtown, Pa., and Sandy Hook, N.J., feel the same way.
By naming the tragedy 12/14, we honor the 26 victims of the Sandy Hook School shooting, their families and their town. 12/14. Think it. Say it. Help Newtown heal.
Maryann Murtha, a resident of Newtown, Conn., teaches communication at Western Connecticut State University.