Newtown High School, photographed by Producer, VAN DEAN

Newtown High School, photographed by Producer, VAN DEAN

December 14th, 2012: When the Shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut happened, I worked very hard to avoid any news about it — Then the week before Christmas, I was sitting with MOM when the report came on playing tapes of the 911 Call from the teacher protecting the children in the Coat Room. I wept ceaselessly for a very long time.

Three months ago, a Wonderful Director I know named MICHAEL UNGER offered me the privilege of working with him Casting two Musicals for the 12.14 Foundation.

The Community in Newtown decided that as a Memorial, instead of Building a Wall with the names of the children who lost their lives, or a Reflecting Pool, they would like to Create a Performing Arts Center, so that the Children who lost their Lives would have a Living Testament which would directly and tangibly benefit Children of Future Generations.
I was on Board.
Productions are being done now to help raise money toward that end.
This past Weekend, I went to see the Shows on which we worked.

I met the People.
Experienced this Community
Brought together by their survival of a Tragedy So Unimaginable.

I arrived Saturday evening.
A Woman had volunteered to pick me up at the station.
Her daughter was in the car — a Little Girl who was in the cast of 101 DALMATIANS.
I looked in her eyes.
She had seen things at her young impressionable age while I spent days avoiding the news, that are even now inconceivable to me.
She was Beautiful and Sweet and Warm and Funny… a Child.
Her mother told me they used to live down on John Street by the World Trade Center, and after 9/11, they looked to bring the Kids somewhere safer – more rural.
She shrugged, “We moved here.”

Company Photo. Van Dean

Company Photo. Van Dean

I was brought to a family who volunteered to put me up in their home for the night
A Beautiful and Kind Couple with two Delightful small children — Children radiating that kind of Magic that Children have; that ability to simplify and bring focus to your World with a smile.
The Little Boy was concerned about a stranger staying in their house — someone none of them had ever met. I smiled and told him, “Haven’t you heard? ‘There are No Strangers. Only Friends we haven’t met yet!’”
He smiled back and laughed gleefully.

The Little Girl, a Genuinely Precious Third-Grader, asked to share with me a poem she wrote in First Grade about what happened there. Her MOM got out a scrapbook and showed me the newspaper clipping.
The poem was entitled “Peace.”
Written in the aftermath of the Tragedy, it was a List of things that Peace means to this little Girl,
e.g.: “Peace is Your Family… Peace is Loving One another…”
A Poetic and Bold Reclamation of all that had been taken from her, written by a Courageous and Insightful 5 year old child.

We went for Ice Cream together to the Creamery — a local dairy farm that was about to go under when someone there came up with the idea of making fresh ice cream on the premises, and now it is a wildly successful and thriving business with a line of customers a block long, day and night.

The next morning, they prepared a Beautiful Homemade Sunday Morning Breakfast.
I told the MOM that I had thought about the Little Girl’s Poem
And I wondered where she was when it happened.
Her daughter was in First Grade and she was the Teacher.
A seemingly routine Lockdown Drill (“FireDrill,” for those of us who are older) was announced, and she and all the students hunkered down safely.
Her daughter in a prescient moment said to her from across the room,
“Mommy, this is not a drill!”

I asked if the event actually happened at her school,
and she replied, “It happened to all of us.”
“No, it was not at our school, but the Community here is so connected and we all knew Kids and their Parents at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Everyone was involved. Everyone was Affected.”

I shared Breakfast with this Generous and Wonderful Family, and they drove me to the Theater.

Maryrose Kristopik, Picture from the UK Daily Mail

Maryrose Kristopik, Picture from the UK Daily Mail

What a Picturesque and Strongly Bound Community.
Everyone I met was so kind.
Remember that story of the Woman who made the 911 Call, Protecting all the Kids, hiding them in the Cloak Room?
She was there.

Photo by T Charles Erickson

Photo by T Charles Erickson

In this version of 101 DALMATIANS, score by DENNIS DeYOUNG, The Parent Dalmatian, played here by a High School Student, sings a song to her Pup about wanting to Protect her but not knowing quite how…

LLOYD RICHARDS once said that a Lot of Communication goes on in the Theater — Not just from the Actors onstage to the Audience,
but from the Audience applauding or booing or coughing at the Actors onstage;
and from people in the Audience to one another,
such as when a moment onstage makes one audience member uncomfortable and it causes that person to cross their legs, so the person next to them has to shift in their chair…
“The theater is a Dangerous Place,” RICHARDS said, “If you go there, you might Learn something.”
These shows were a profound and vibrant experience of precisely the kind of Communication to which RICHARDS referred.


A ROCKIN’ MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, Photo by our Marvelous Producer VAN DEAN

On Sunday Evening, the parent of Two Daughters in A ROCKIN’ MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM cheerfully drove a group of us to the Train Station — about a 45 minute ride, so we could get back to New York — this hour and a half out of her day went unmentioned, as not even the slightest inconvenience.
It was like an endless Flowing Fountain of Acts of Kindness —
We were buoyed up by Other People at every turn.

Myself with the Other Judges and a few of the Winners from CONNECTICUT GOT's TALENT, along with the Exceptionally Wonderful Director, MICHAEL UNGER (whose photo this is)

Myself with the Other Judges and a few of the Winners from CONNECTICUT GOT’s TALENT, along with the Exceptionally Wonderful Director, MICHAEL UNGER (whose photo this is)

Earlier this week, I was invited to be a judge at a FundRaiser for the Foundation entitled “Connecticut’s Got Talent” We saw just under thirty acts.
There are noticeably no boundaries here — people of color, white people, gay people, straight people, all religions, interracial marriages, small children, the elderly…
Groups of Kids who came together, Black and White and Asian and Indian; Flamboyantly Gay Male Teens and Girls and Jocks; Older Kids and Younger,
singing and performing together
Together in their Commonality with no awareness of their differences.

This Community seems to have lost the Hang-ups that Some Communities — Congress, for example — seem to stay inexplicably Hung Up on.
The Girl who Won the 15-and-Up Category was a Young Lesbian who accompanied herself on guitar to a Raw and Impassioned song she wrote about growing up Gay.

Roses For volunteering to be a Judge, at the end of the Evening,
I was presented with a bouquet of Exceptionally Fragrant and Colorful Roses.

I have asked myself countless times if the AIDS Crisis was necessary to bring together the Gay and Lesbian Community.
Couldn’t it have happened another way?
I don’t know the answer to that.
But I have learned that in the aftermath of Great Tragedies, People seem to gain a clearer sense of the Value of Life and What is Truly Important;
They seem better able to Let Go of all that’s not.

NewTown felt like this Magical Village of Helpful and Kind People.
I was Thanked at least a Hundred times for my Work.
I Loved Everybody I met.

In our own lives, sometimes the Greatest Tragedies leave in their wake a kind of Enlightenment.
The personal Tragedies which bring us unimaginable Sadness awaken us to Truths
Or enable us to Let Go of some of the Nonsense on which we spend far too much of our time;
Illuminating how small bigotry and hatred and trying to keep marginalized groups from Marriage or a Higher Minimum Wage is not, in fact,
what we are here in this all too brief time together to accomplish…

Though it came at a Great Cost, this Community gets it.
Congress doesn’t get it.
In the Two years since this occurred Not One new Gun Control Law has been passed. Not One.
Yet these People of Newtown Live their Lives Transformed in a way that honors every Soul who Lost a Life on 12.14.
The Souls of the 28 people killed that day are present in every Kindness
In Every Feeling Moment
In Every Thought and Gesture
And Every Thought and Gesture is for the Betterment of Humanity
Toward Healing
Toward Forgiveness
Toward Celebrating this Moment
And the Gift of Living
How we Live
And Living Better…
They are an Enlightened Community
And it is a Remarkable Experience to walk among them.

Poetically, the Fragrant Colorful Roses I was given there died before they were fully bloomed.
Roses, not bloomed
# # #

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  1. Michael Walters

     /  August 16, 2014

    amazing, Honey xoxox

  2. Tears in my eyes, goosebumps on my arms. SO well written Arnold!!!
    Loving you from here, Denise aka Merri Beacon

  3. Kathleen Deschenes

     /  August 16, 2014

    I read this with my 10 year old daughter who was in the cast of a ‘Rockin’ Midsummer Night’s Dream’. We were both moved to tears as your words triggered the horrific tragedy and the visceral memories from that awful day. However, you have really captured our town and the transformation that we have all experienced. We have an unspoken bond and a deep appreciation of each other. We have a firsthand understanding of how fleeting life is. Thanky you for volunteering to help bring 12.14 productions to life and for your sweet and poignant words that truly captured our community.
    Kathleen Deschenes

  1. Forgiveness and PRIDE | Live The Questions Now

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