Reuters reports it today with succinct and agonizing words: “The demolition of Newtown, Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 young children and six adults were shot to death last December, will begin on Friday under a cloak of secrecy meant to discourage souvenir-hunters, town officials said.”
There can be no doubt that the workers arriving to tear down the once innocent temple of learning and happiness come with both strong hands and heavy hearts. But our nation, growing almost immune to the regular dispatches of gun massacres, is also a gossip culture. Sadly but wisely, the laborers assigned to this unhappy task have been required to sign confidentiality agreements. The town, still twisting with grief, remains vulnerable to blathering locals and to voyeuristic tourists who have this dark need to look through shattered windows.
So the personnel are legally banned “from discussing any aspect of the work as Newtown officials attempt to fade out of the media spotlight that hit the commuter suburb after the December 14 attack.” [Chicago Tribune]
It’d be gross and incongruous to compare the destruction of the bloodied school to the actual loss of 20 children and six adults that broke through our attention spans and shattered our hearts nearly a year ago; that’s not even remotely suggested here.
But there is a separate category of sadness to note when Americans are dispatched to tear down an elementary school—not because it has infrastructure problems, not because its boiler system might have become dangerous, or not because it happened to be found sitting upon radioactive soul.
The school is being razed because its presence is simply too painful for the place to remain and too hard an emotional burden for a fresh set of youngsters to even bring their books and lunches and laughter there ever again.
The newspaper account of this quiet secondary tragedy includes this statement:
"We have people showing up here every day who want to see the school,"’ said Newtown First Selectman Patricia Llodra. "We are not a tourist attraction or a large city. We are a small town of 28,000 that just wants to be left alone to heal."
On the practical level, it makes sense for this brave and beleaguered city to take this difficult step. From the point of the human spirit, it is incomprehensibly unbearable: we are supposed to be building schools in America to help grow our young people with ideas; not destroying them to protect children from nightmares.
The Talmud says: “The world rests upon the breath of the schoolchildren.” In America, not so much.