Kindness As A Motto
Newtown has certainly, in the words of First Selectman Pat Llodra, been "overwhelmed with great generosities."
"Gifts were coming in by the truckload," she said. "As much as we appreciate that, we began to understand that [they were] associating this horrible thing with a gift. That’s not the association most of us are comfortable with. Parents were saying we don’t want that awful tragedy to be the leverage point for wonderful things happening to our kids."
In October, many of the gifts and memorials sent to Newtown became “sacred soil,” possibly to be included in a future 12/14 memorial. A town memorial committee will make that decision at some point in the future.
But Newtown has also given back. And they’ve been giving back since before anyone may have expected.
In the third week of December, just before Christmas, a group of families who had lost children on Dec. 14 decided to come together and bake cookies for first responders — police, fire and emergency personnel — in other neighboring towns.
"To me, that’s so telling about the power of community spirit," Llodra said. "In the midst of their despair, they were able to come together and say, ‘Part of my journey is to do good for others.’ That’s an extraordinary act, and one that resonates with me in the deepest possible way."
In her words, it "stripped us of all the artifice we had."
"We began to see each other in our humanness," she said. "And that triggered spontaneous acts of kindness, that continue to this day. How are we different [one year later]? We’re much more different in our relationships — and the core of that is kindness and compassion."
In her blog posts on the town site OneNewtown.org, Llodra has repeatedly called for acts of kindness — especially performed in one’s own community — as an appropriate way to honor the community of Newtown and the 26 lives that were lost on Dec. 14.
In October, she laid out her plan for the one-year anniversary.
"Our community is choosing to remember and honor those who lost their lives in that awful tragedy in ways that are quiet, personal, and respectful – centered on the themes of kindness, love, and service to others," she wrote. "We suggest that in the weeks leading up to that date, organizations, businesses, families, faith communities, and individuals pledge an act of kindness to one another."
Llodra says she thinks the past year has made her more patient, more willing to understand differences and to accept those differences.
For Newtown Congregational Church Senior Pastor Matt Crebbin, compassion for his community fills everything he does.
"The compassion in and beyond this community has been amazing," he said. "I’ve been connected to folks who have experienced tragedy and trauma beyond here. While our situation was unique and captured the imagination of people, I’m so impressed by folks who have genuine compassion in the midst of our own lives. I try to bring that compassion to the ministry."
Crebbin likes to remind his parishioners that communication is key: we need to listen more attentively to each other.
"We need to talk through things," he said. "We need to hear each other. We need to accept sometimes people are angry because they feel powerless. It’s hard to feel like you have control over things when something like this happens. People are angry about the event, but a lot of times the anger frustration and anxiety come bubbling up in other ways. Someone may be upset or angry about this, but it may be tied into other things."Leaders can encourage kindness, but what about those who make it their goal? One Newtown-based group has done just that, embracing a project to inspire generosity and compassion around the world.