At a party last night, during introductions to friends of friends, someone asked, “Where are you from?” – a pretty standard getting to know you question. When I answered, “Connecticut,” he paused, shook his head, and said, “I’m so sorry about what happened.”
And I realized that, probably for the rest of our lives, people are going to associate the word “Connecticut” with one of the most horrific shootings in our nation’s history. This has made me sadder than almost anything over the past 36 hours. I feel like an important part of my identity has been stolen, corrupted, poisoned.
I’ve made my adult life in Washington, D.C. Since I heard the news, all I’ve wanted to do is be with Nutmeggers. I don’t want to talk about the tragedy. I want to talk about rival area codes, Mark Twain, UCONN basketball, fall foliage, keg parties in the woods, the achievement gap in our public schools, mosh pits at the Webster, how hard Hartford is trying, Dunkin Donuts, Red Sox versus Yankees, how everything is 30 minutes from everything … all the million things I loved and hated about growing up in the Constitution State. All the things that will always make Connecticut my home. I can only imagine how much more intense these feelings must be for people from Newtown.
In the summer of 2010, I researched land conflict in rural Côte d’Ivoire. I was based in Daloa, a town in the center of the country, and the site of one of the biggest massacres of the first civil war. When I arrived, one of my co-workers took me for a walk around the neighborhood. He pointed out his favorite bars, fruit stands, introduced me to his friends, and showed me where I could top up my SIM card. He asked me if I had been scared to come to Côte d’Ivoire. He said it made him sad that outsiders only think of his town as a massacre, only think of his country as a war.
I’ve heard the words of my colleague in Daloa echoed throughout my travels in post-conflict spaces. In Freetown, in Belfast, in Sarajevo, in Belgrade, in Abidjan. My home is not a war. My home is not a massacre.
As we work as a nation, a state, a community, to make sense of and move forward from this tragedy, we will need to answer tough questions about what we are and what we are not. We will need to decide what we stand for, the limitations of our tolerance for violence, what combination of variables keeps enabling this particular brand of tragedy. Our actions moving forward will define us.
Connecticut is not a shooting. Connecticut is my childhood, my family, my heart.