On this Easter Sunday when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ – the ultimate sign of God’s love for humanity, the people of Newtown, CT devastated by the school shootings at Sandy Hook a few months ago have every reason to doubt the goodness of God, even the existence of God. But according to a column by Denis Hamill in today’s Daily News, God’s presence remains strong and, in some cases, has grown even stronger.
Here are some excerpts:
“Before anyone told me anything official I just knew as a mother,” says Jen Hubbard, reflecting on her murdered child on Holy Thursday morning. She had just rushed into St. Rose’s Learning Center after collecting clothes for the parents of a boy who’d survived the shootings only for the family home to burn down last Wednesday night.
Hubbard seemed more concerned about that family’s plight than her own gigantic loss.
“I’m at complete peace,” she says. “Just as I was at total peace on Dec. 14 at the firehouse because I knew Catherine was with God. A lot of people have said, ‘Oh, Jen’s just avoiding it, in denial.’ But I know full well what happened in that school. Horrific, what happened. I choose not to dwell on that. Because to do that allows the Devil to win. God didn’t do this. The Devil did and he thought we would crumble. But the Devil was wrong. It has made us stronger physically and spiritually — as people, as families, as a town. I wouldn’t live anywhere else but Newtown, which 100 days after the shooting is filled with hope and light.”
I found evidence of that everywhere I went in Newtown on Holy Thursday, driving around with a local family man named Dennis Stratford who works as a courier for the Newtown school district and whose own son, Luke 6, was in the Sandy Hook school that morning.
“The morning of the shootings I got a call from a co-worker, a plumber, and he said something had happened at the school,” says Stratford. “Maybe a domestic incident. No one was sure. I had an instant feeling it was very bad. I get signs from God like that. I jumped in my school van and raced over there.”…
…Stratford said he never felt more terrified or helpless before in his life as a father as he waited. And waited. And waited. “And then kids started filing out,” he says. “Hands on the shoulders of the classmate in front of them. I searched for Luke. I saw his teacher’s foot was mangled with a bullet, tearing her shoe open from front to back. No one had seen Luke. I was in a panic. And then I saw him, marching with schoolmates. I called his name. He glanced at me and nodded and I nodded back and it was the most blessed moment of my life to see him alive.” Stratford has been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder and has sought therapy and solace through prayer as a devout Catholic and a Eucharistic minister.
“Worst day ever in Newtown,” he says. “But just like you can’t have Easter without Good Friday, this tragedy has transformed us into a town of life, love and brotherhood. There’s a new cordiality. When you drive, people brake and wave you to go first. People you meet who have a connection to the shooting just nod in a wordless, knowing, embracing way. It’s forged us together.”
…So on Easter the Hubbard family will attend Mass at St. Rose’s and then ride up to the cemetery near the shuttered school to lay purple pansies on Catherine’s grave. “But she’s not really there,” Jen says. “Catherine’s in heaven and with me and my family every moment of every day. She’s still alive in spirit. Catherine is just fine and just waiting for us to join her. When I told Freddie that, he said he hopes she’s ready to wait a long time because he wants to live.”
She says her focus now is on the problems of the living, like this family that just got burned out.
“People of Newtown are focusing on rebuilding the family, being with their kids, praying more, and being nicer to each other,” she says. “Many people are pledging 26 acts of kindness for others to honor those 26 who died. So even though Catherine is missing in body this will be a great Easter. Because out of the pain and out of the darkness Newtown is resurrected.”