Doth the Lady Protest Too Much? The Bruce and Caitlyn “Jenner-ization” of the Nation

This blog posting has a bit of a different focus than my blogs typically do.  But I have a rule: if something causes me to throw back my head in frustration or to start talking to my computer screen or TV, that means I need to write about it—if only to work out my irritation, to reach some type of catharsis if I’m fortunate, or to come to a conclusion that may even have a pearl of wisdom buried within.  So I sincerely apologize if any of my wonderful readers takes offense to anything I’m about to say—but please do stick with me to the end if you can.

So here it goes.  If I see one more article about Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner’s “rocking a gorgeous white Versace gown,” taking “a walk on the wild side when she stepped out” in a leopard-patterned wrap dress in New York City, or “conquering her fear of swim suits,” I’m going to start screaming, and I may not stop.  But as you’ll see shortly, my rant here is not so much about Caitlyn, but rather about what I’m calling today’s “Jenner-ization” of America.

At the age of 12, with the rest of the country, I watched in admiration when Jenner set the world record in the decathlon and received the gold medal during the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics.  And his win was certainly exciting in the moment.  But I didn’t quite understand why so many seemed to worship him so–and for so long.  After all, having received his gold, he retired immediately after taking his victory lap around Olympic stadium.  Even he has joked that “Nobody has milked one performance better than me—and I’m damned proud of it.”  And years later, after moving to Newtown, CT, I learned some not-so-admirable facts about Jenner, making it even more difficult to consider myself a fan of the former athlete.

A bit of background first, and then on to why Jenner has not been Newtown’s favorite son for some time now.  The fact is that Jenner lived right here in Newtown, and this is where he spent his last 2 years of high school.  In addition to competing in track at Newtown High, Jenner also played on the football and basketball teams, and he was voted Most Valuable Player of Newtown’s track squad.  He attended his senior prom with the young lady who became the wife of Newtown’s former first selectman.  And a few months after winning the gold medal in Montreal, Jenner returned to Newtown to attend a ceremony at Newtown High, during which they christened “Bruce Jenner Stadium.”  Just a few months later, tragedy struck the Jenner family:  his younger brother, who was just 18 years old, was killed in a car accident in Canton, CT while driving Jenner’s Porsche, which had been a gift to celebrate the Olympian’s success.  Though some speculate that his brother’s tragic death may be at least part of the reason that Jenner appears to have kept his distance from Newtown after that time, his name remained on the Newtown High School stadium for nearly 25 years.

And here’s where many Newtownians’ opinions of Jenner changed.  Former Newtown High School principal, William Manfredonia, told the Danbury New-Times that in 1997, school officials repeatedly tried to contact Jenner–whom at that time was living a charmed life as an actor, announcer, and motivational speaker–asking “for both financial and moral support” for a $400,000 renovation to the stadium.  Manfredonia said that “I wrote to [Jenner] twice to see if he could help, and I even called, but I never even got the courtesy of a reply letter.”  Michael Kelley, who was then the president of Newtown High School’s Blue and Gold Booster Club, also made repeated calls to Jenner while working with the club to help raise money for the new stadium.  “I never spoke to him personally, but I called his office and home numerous times,” Kelley told The News-Times. “His wife told me he was involved in other commitments and was not able to help us.”

At that time, I was a relatively new resident of Newtown, and my husband had already been living here for many years.  We were both enamored and protective of our sweet home town.  Needless to say, upon learning that Jenner did not even have the common courtesy to pick up the phone to return a call, let alone contribute to the stadium that bore his name, we were outraged at first and then simply disgusted.  Apparently, he simply was not interested in contributing to the warm, sleepy town where he honed his athletic skills.  Nor did he appear to have any inclination to help with a renovation to the “Bruce Jenner Stadium,” so that new generations of young men and women could develop their own athletic skills and perhaps go on to reach some semblance of the fame, fortune, and success that he had achieved.  Of course, it was completely within his right to choose to spend and not to spend his fortune in any manner that he wished.  But the result was that many of us who love Newtown lost a great deal of respect for him, the man who was Bruce Jenner at that time.

So that was that.  In October of 2001, the school board unanimously approved a name change for the stadium, calling it the “Blue and Gold Sports Stadium,” and they also renamed the athletic field behind Newtown High School as the “Harold S. DeGroat and Ann Anderson Sports Complex.”  Speaking to The News-Times, long-time Newtown resident Joan Crick said that “the stadium never should have been named after Jenner; it should have been given the name of Harry DeGroat, a long-time high school sports coach and physical education teacher, who died nearly 40 years ago. ‘He did so much for the town and is remembered by so many for his work and achievements,’” she stressed.  Kelley somewhat agreed: “I think we made the right decision in choosing his [Jenner’s] name for the stadium at the time, but over the years there hasn’t been a connection between Mr. Jenner and Newtown.”  The high school stadium, which is still known as the Blue and Gold Sports Stadium, contains a plaque listing the names of the many people who contributed toward the stadium’s improvements.  One former Newtown resident’s name is notably lacking.

Fast-forward to the very different world in which we live today.  So now you know why I have not considered myself a fan of Jenner for some time.  I just happen to think that not deigning to take a phone call from an official of your former home town—a town that honored you and celebrated your accomplishment by putting your very name on their stadium–was simply a rotten, thoughtless thing to do.  But as hinted earlier, that’s not why I’m writing this blog: what prompted me to do so is my concern for what’s been happening to our beloved country.

Before you start shaking your head, thinking that I’m a transgender-phobe (is that a word yet?), that is absolutely not the case.  If Bruce was miserable being Bruce and is truly happy now being Cait, I’m genuinely happy for her.  There is far too much suffering and pain in this world, and it’s always a wonderful thing when people are able to make changes that result in their leading much happier lives.  Also, I truly hope that by sharing her story, Cait is able to provide comfort and hope for those who are currently struggling with gender identity–and perhaps help to prevent some of the terrible experiences that impact so many transgender youth, such as family rejection, harassment, discrimination, violence, and other severe stressors that may contribute to the high suicide attempt rate among transgender people.

But sadly, with that said, it certainly appears to some of us that this is just as much—or perhaps much more–about Bruce doing what he wanted to do and making a pretty penny than it is about a strong sense of altruism and genuine concern for others.  Rather, for many, this seems more like another episode (literally) in our country’s current sensationalized reality TV show culture.

When Diane Sawyer asked Jenner (who was not yet going by Caitlyn) about whether this was a publicity stunt for the “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” show as many in the public were convinced, he rolled his eyes, laughed,  and sarcastically said the following:

Jenner: “Ohhh noooo, we would never do that, Diane! Are you telling me that I’m going to go through a complete gender change, okay, and go through everything you need to do [for] that for the show?  Sorry, Diane, it ain’t happening, okay? Yeah, we’re doing this for publicity … yeah, right.  Oh my God, Diane, do you have any idea what I’ve been going through all my life, and they’re gonna say that I’m doing this as publicity for a show?  Oh my God.  There are lots of shows out there.”

jenner

Sawyer: “Yes, but there’s a shameless selling of everything these days.”

Jenner (now leaning forward and pointing at Sawyer): “And I get that, but what I’m doing is going to do some good.  We’re going to change the world.  I really firmly believe that we’re going to make a difference in the world with what we’re doing.  And if the whole Kardashian show and reality television gave me that foothold into that world—to be able to go out there and really do something good, I’m all for it. I got no problem with that.  Understand?”

“Understand?” My goodness!  It would be difficult not to regard Jenner’s tone and body language as sarcastic, didactic, and just downright rude.  And it was interesting to me that he kept using the word “we.” Wouldn’t one who was genuine about what he was saying use the word “I”?  Doesn’t his use of the universal “we” seem a bit contrived and suggest that he was referring not so much to his family members, but rather to the “cast members” of the Kardashian television show?  Perhaps the lady doth protest too much?

Yes, in my humble opinion, she “doth.”  Over the last several weeks, every single time I’ve gone online to conduct a search on Yahoo, there were not one, not two, but several stories about Caitlyn.  It was the day when I saw six, yes, SIX of these stories listed one after the other that I’d had enough.  And what did these “news” stories cover?  Let’s see: where Jenner went to lunch; how “stunning!” she looked while wearing “a tight black dress”; how stylists everywhere are finding “her classic and timeless hair and makeup flawless”; and the fact that she was excited about @Caitlyn_Jenner stealing the “Twitter crown” from @BarackObama by receiving 1 million followers the most quickly (where Caitlyn’s reaction was a squealing “Let’s go for the record! I love records!”).  Good grief.  Doesn’t this non-stop, frivolous, “glam” coverage about hair, nails, make-up, and social media highly suggest that much of this is about furthering celebrity and piling up those pennies?  And how about the fact that Jenner called a “family meeting” to break the news about his transgender plans to Kim, Khloe, Kylie, and Kendall Kardashian–during which E! cameras were rolling to capture the moment for an upcoming episode of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”? What was that you said about publicity?  “Ohhh noooo, we would never do that, Diane!”

But for many, perhaps worse yet was when the media, Hollywood, and many others started throwing around the word “Hero” to describe Jenner’s transgender transition.  The icing on the cake was this quote from Kanye West, the husband of Kim Kardashian, when speaking to Jenner about her transition: “I think this is one of the strongest things that have [sic] happened in our existence as human beings, that are [sic] so controlled by perception.  You couldn’t have been up against more.”  Besides being barely understandable, really?  In my humble opinion, it’s difficult to reconcile “hero” as an appropriate term here—and I’m certainly not the only one who feels this way.  Just one example is former Virginia Beach Navy SEAL, Kristin Beck, who has not minced words concerning the manner in which Jenner is revealing her transgender transition.  In an interview with NewsChannel 3, Northeast NC, posted on May 13 this year, Beck bluntly stated, “He’s no hero.  I’m seeing too much of that money-grubbing reality show crap.”  Two years after retiring from the Navy, Beck revealed her transgender transition in a 2013 interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper.  Beck strongly feels that Jenner’s approach to spacing out bits and pieces of information is less than helpful to the LGBT community.  “He’s keeping everything secret and parsing out information to fish out another 17 million viewers to make another million bucks.  It’s shameful, and you’re not a hero if all you’re doing is trying to make money.  You can’t be an example if all you are is just that reality show machine.”  Beck has written a book on her transgender journey and created a documentary called “Lady Valor.”  She explained that “I took the road where I made a documentary, did everything real quick, and just said, ‘Hey, here it is; here’s the information if you want to know about it.’  And now I’m going to universities and speaking for free at colleges and universities all around the country.  I’m barely breaking even, but I’m trying to show people who we are as normal folks, as something you can look and say, ‘Okay, I can understand it.’”

Beck, who is running for Congress in Maryland, emphasized that “There are kids, transgender LGBT kids who are killing themselves every day because they have no hero to look up to.  They see no future.  They feel isolated, and this could have been a really good example of what you can do and could have saved some lives.  But instead, you’re going to make a few bucks.  Disappointing.”

And concerning Kanye West’s statement that Jenner “couldn’t have been up against more”?  It is terribly sad that Jenner was unhappy for so long.  But Jenner became a celebrity many moons ago, had more opportunities than most in this life, and was immediately  buoyed and supported by other celebrities when he revealed that he was now Caitlyn.  Just to name a few examples, singer Demi Lovato dedicated a song to “American Hero, Bruce Jenner.”  Celebrity after celebrity tweeted their support to Jenner after her Vanity Fair cover, Culture Club’s audience gave her a standing ovation, and she is now surrounded by dedicated hairstylists and assistants to ensure every hair is in place and every outfit is “stunning.”  So Jenner “couldn’t have been up against more?”  In all seriousness, isn’t it time to stop the sensationalizing, the rubber-necking, the lowest-common-denominator impact of reality shows on our true reality?  The popular media has played a disgraceful role in this, with the result being more and more people who are “famous for being famous”—the Kardashian sisters, Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, and on and on it goes.  Instead, imagine what a better world this could be if the media paid much more attention to the TRUE heroes all around us–many of whom in reality “couldn’t have been up against more”?  For example, wouldn’t you like to learn more about the following remarkable people?

Unsung Heroes in Our Midst

  • Do you recognize the names Ali Viator Martin and Jena Legnon Meaux? I did not hear a single news story about them and only learned of their bravery due to my brother-in-law’s discussing what had happened to them.  The two teachers were recently watching a movie in Lafayette, Louisiana when a gunman opened fire in their crowded theater, killing two people and injuring nine others, including Martin and Meaux, who were both shot in the leg.  One of these brave teachers immediately threw herself on top of her friend when the shooting started to protect her from the ongoing gunfire.  The other managed to drag herself to a fire alarm and pulled it to alert everyone in the building of the danger.  The overwhelming majority of the news coverage focused on … (you guessed it) … the motivations of the killer, who shall remain nameless here, rather than on these two brave women who undoubtedly saved many lives.

beaux-and-martin

 

  • Have you heard the name Kimberly Koss? She is a biomedical scientist, mother, and grandmother who delayed her treatment for a particularly aggressive type of breast cancer (known as triple negative breast cancer) to donate her tumor cells for research.  Speaking to Yahoo! Health, Dr. Koss explained that “This will be tremendously helpful in figuring out what causes this type of cancer and how to treat it…Every day, that gives me hope.”  Her friend and colleague, Dr. Keith Jones, is heading the research team at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, where they are using Koss’s tumor cells in an effort to create an immortal cell line.  Crucial for cancer research, immortalized cell lines are a population of cells that would normally not proliferate indefinitely yet, due to mutation, are able to evade the normal loss of the ability to grow and divide and therefore can continually proliferate.  Such laboratory-grown human cells, which may be cultured in mice, are critical for testing theories about the underlying causes of and treatments for cancers for translation into clinical advances.  Koss’s cancer was highly invasive, with the cancer cells’ undergoing cell division rapidly, making them good candidates to successfully proliferate in cell cultures.  However, chemotherapy would have damaged the tumor cells, making them less likely to survive in cell culture.  For triple negative breast cancer, many basic questions remain, and though there are some triple negative cell lines available for research, these tend to be from patients who had received chemotherapy prior to removal of the tumor.  In addition, as Dr. Jones told Medscape Medical News, Koss’s cells contain mutations not seen in the other cell lines.  “This will allow us to confirm that the cell lines used for study reflect the actual tumor tissue the way it was in the body, before it was extracted.  This is an opportunity we did not have before.”

Due to Koss’s decision to donate her tumor cells to research, she started to receive her chemotherapy after her mastectomy rather than before surgery.  Her chemotherapy therefore was started more than two months later than her doctors had recommended.  (For triple negative breast cancer, presurgical [neoadjuvant] treatment is often recommended in an effort to shrink the tumors and improve patient prognosis.)  Dr. Jones confirmed that some of Dr. Koss’s tumor cells have been growing in culture for about six months, but explained that another six months or so are required to determine whether they have successfully established an immortalized triple negative breast cancer cell line.  Though this is extremely encouraging news, there is also upsetting news: Dr. Koss’s breast cancer has now metastasized to her chest wall and lungs.  She also has developed cardiotoxicity secondary to her treatment, including early-stage cardiomyopathy and heart failure.  In speaking of his friend, Dr. Jones noted that, “It’s always a little scary to hear a friend say they were taking a chance on something that could cost their life or health.  I don’t know if, in the same situation, I could do the same.  It’s very brave.”  He also emphasized, “Part of her legacy will be what this does for other women.”  Now THIS is an American hero.

Dr. Kimberly Koss

Dr. Kimberly Koss. Loyola University

  • Did you know that more and more Americans, many of whom are veterans of the Iraq War, are volunteering on their own and creating several emerging groups to fight alongside local Kurdish Peshmerga forces and Christian militias against the terrorist group ISIS in Iraq and Syria?
  • What about the cancer researchers who are devoting their hearts and souls to developing life-saving treatments, while quietly struggling to keep their labs and their critical research afloat as available grant funding continues to disappear? Heroes in my book.
  • And those patients with cancer and other life-limiting or terminal illnesses who participate in clinical trials, understanding that there may be little or no direct therapeutic benefit for themselves and a very real possibility of significant harms, yet who do so for the hope of future patients? We all owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude: true heroes.
  • What about the young spokesman for Shriners Hospitals, the adorable little boy with the huge heart with whom so many of us have fallen in love? In his role as a Patient Ambassador, 12-year-old Alec Cabacungan has brought Shriners Hospitals to the attention of countless folks who before were unaware of the critical orthopedic, spinal cord injury, burn, and other specialty care they have provided to over a million children regardless of families’ ability to pay.  Cabacungan has been diagnosed with osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder characterized by bone fragility, and he has been affected by more than 50 bone fractures in his young life.  Shriners Hospitals’ “What is Love?” campaign has brought Alec’s radiant smile into millions of living rooms across the country, with the goal of bringing further charitable donations to help support Shriners’ ongoing critical work.  Alec, all of the other Patient Ambassadors, their families, the clinical staff and researchers at Shriners: heroes.  All of them.

alec

alec shriners

  • How about the millions of folks across our country who serve as caregivers for family members—for their children, spouses, adult parents, or siblings–with terminal or life-limiting diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and other dementias? Being a primary family caregiver can be one of the most emotional experiences one may have: it’s often physically, psychologically, and financially draining, stressful, frustrating, upsetting, and it’s never easy.  Yet for so many families, it can also be deeply rewarding and joyful.  As Edward Albert said so eloquently, “The simple act of caring is heroic.”
  • And though I could go on and on, I cannot conclude here without including the volunteer firemen in our communities, often our friends and neighbors, who run toward burning homes, buildings, World Trade Center towers, rather than running away like most of us, risking their own lives to save ours. Our American Heroes.

No, winning an Olympic gold medal, becoming a reality television star, and undergoing a transgender transition in front of the rolling TV cameras do not a hero make.  But today, as I was again trying to ignore the deluge of stories about Jenner’s gowns, swim suits, and latest trips on the town, I saw a short article for the very first time that specifically described what they called Jenner’s transgender activism and her concern over the high suicide rates seen in the transgender community.  Is it possible that over the rush of applause and the flashing cameras, Jenner has begun to hear the words of folks like Beck and to recognize that it’s not all about glitz, glam, celebrity, and cash?   Perhaps she has started to recognize her privileged status and what true struggle is like?  Might she start to worry less about the dress and direct the full focus and determination she had shown so famously as an Olympian to help the next generation of transgender youths feel less isolated and more hopeful?  Dare we hope that she, the media, and so many in our reality show culture will finally begin to recognize that it’s not what transpires in front of the cameras and what’s seen in the public view, but rather, as John Wooden famously said, that “The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching”?  We shall see.

A Devastating Anniversary – Two Years After Newtown’s Tragedy

Two years ago today, it was an ordinary morning in Newtown, Connecticut.  As I was driving down Main Street, headed to work, I admired the grand old homes, decorated for the holidays, and the Stars and Stripes rippling from the town’s flagpole in the cold air.  At that very moment, 5 minutes away, a disturbed 20 year old was systematically taking the lives of 26 beautiful souls,  forever dividing time for so many of us.

I fell in love with Newtown the first time my husband-to-be drove me down the most beautiful Main Street I’d ever seen, where a massive flagpole, first erected in 1876, proudly stands directly in the middle of the street as an ongoing tribute to the 43 Newtownians who were determined to show the town’s patriotism to celebrate the United States’ 100th anniversary.

During that first December drive down Main Street, Newtown was the home of Lexington Gardens, the folksy “Newtown Bee,” Pasta Fresca—the best Italian restaurant that ever was—and such friendliness and warmth that many residents proudly displayed “Nicer in Newtown” bumper stickers on their cars.

It’s no longer nicer in Newtown–and now we’re also infamous.

As an advocate, I’ve been traveling quite a bit over the last several years, and whenever someone asked me where I was from—even if they were also from Connecticut—their response to my answer was always, “Newtown?  Never heard of it; now where is that?” And I can’t tell you how many pieces of mail we’ve received that were addressed to “Newton.”  Now, everyone knows Newtown.  And everyone knows Sandy Hook, a village that is an intimate part of our town.

On December 14, 2012, shortly after I arrived at work, I heard a commotion in the office next to mine.  When I opened my office door and stepped into the hallway, our entire Billing staff was talking at once, with expressions of horror in their faces.  “Deb, there’s been a shooting in Newtown at one of the schools.”

With that one sentence, our lives changed instantly.  I raced to the phone to call my husband, Marty: our friends across the street from us have 2 sons in Newtown schools, and their mom works in one of the schools as well.  Thank the Lord, their dad had already called Marty to let us know that they were all okay.

The rest of the day was a blur.  We all had our eyes glued to our computers, following the news and worrying about the people we know and love in Newtown.  At one point, one of our doctors, who also lives in Newtown, was interviewed from the Sandy Hook Firehouse, where he was preparing to triage anyone who had been harmed in nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School.  All of our MDs who weren’t working at the practice that day were called into Danbury Hospital to assist the wounded.  They later said that the most devastating moment was when they realized that no more survivors were coming: just 3 people, 2 children and one adult, were brought to the Hospital, and the adult, an employee of Sandy Hook Elementary, was the only one to survive her injuries.

When I drove home that evening, just the thought of driving down my beautiful Main Street made me feel ill, anxious, nauseated.  And I was right: it was absolutely devastating.  There were police cars, news vans, and cameras everywhere, and Newtown looked like it had turned into a war zone—and it had.

Over night, memorials began to appear in town almost everywhere you looked.  Two minutes from our home, someone had posted a makeshift sign on a telephone pole that simply said “Pray.”   Another minute away, people had begun to bring roses, teddy bears, toys, bows, notes, candles, and prayers to a memorial right next to our police station, a memorial that grew larger and larger with every day that passed.  Surrounding towns also began to place signs with messages for the people of Newtown: “We are praying for you, Newtown,” “We Choose Love,” and “We are Newtown.”  And we in Newtown and Sandy Hook mourned deeply for all of those who lost their beloved family members and for the loss of what our town had been.

Newtown, 2012, Pray

 

Newtown 2012, 2

In the days following the tragedy, Newtownians made small acts of kindness the rule rather than the exception.   When stopping at a 4-way intersection close to my home, all 4 of us waved one another on, wanting to be generous to the other folks, until one driver reluctantly went through the intersection.  When walking in my daze through Newtown’s Library, I brought a greatly overdue book to the counter, and the librarian said, “We’re not charging Newtownians any overdue fees for now.”  Yes, small acts of kindness: but these went far to thaw the freeze on our hearts.

Most of us who live in Newtown who were fortunate enough not to lose a loved one know families who were directly impacted.  And we very much grieved together as a town—and still do, 2 years later.  Many of us felt as if we were living in a fog, where nothing seemed real—and had one or more moments when the fog broke and we completely broke down from the weight of the sorrow.  My moment came when I was driving to work one day about a week after the tragedy.  I’d avoided driving through the center of Newtown as much as possible, because at first, it broke my heart and later it angered me that the news vans, the cameras, and the reporters were still there and increasing in number daily.  But I had a present that I needed to mail to my sister for Hanukkah, so I had to stop by the post office across town.  As I was driving down Main Street toward the flagpole in the center of Newtown, I heard a commotion behind me and realized it was a motorcade.  As I pulled over, several police officers drove past on motorcycles … and then I saw the hearse.  And that’s when I completely, totally, irrevocably “lost it.”  There is only one other time when I’d sobbed like this: that day was on 9/11, when we saw the second plane crash into the World Trade Center, when the first and then the second tower came down, when we saw people at the windows of the towers gasping for air and preparing to escape the fire by jumping to their deaths.  As I was trying to wipe my tears away and pulled back into the road behind the hearse and the motorcade, I heard another sound and realized that it was me, wailing.   As I followed the hearse, I saw that it was pulling into the driveway of the church directly across from the flagpole.  I noticed that there was a large, beautiful picture on the church’s lawn—and saw that it was a picture of Benjamin Wheeler, one of the little boys who had been killed.  He was 6 years old, 6 years old.

I saw all the mourners stepping out of the church onto the lawn, and I just couldn’t take it.  I somehow managed to keep driving … only to pass another church, where another funeral was taking place for another beautiful life that had been taken by the shooter.  The lawn of this church was absolutely crawling with reporters, camera crews, and news vans from CNN, Fox News, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and on and on and on.  They were all planted directly in front of a sign that the church had posted, saying “No media past here.”   I finally managed to pull into the post office’s driveway.  I shut off the engine.  I called my husband, absolutely distraught.  I could barely get the words out, but that didn’t matter.  He spoke with me for about 20 minutes, calmly, soothingly, sharing our grief.  I thought I’d finally gotten myself together, so said good-bye to my husband, grabbed the package, and walked into the post office.  I have no recollection of writing out the mailing label for my sister’s present.  And when I walked to the counter and put the package on the scale, from the way the gentleman behind the counter looked at me, I realized then that I was still crying, but silently now, and the tears just kept rolling down my face.  He then gently put his hand on mine, patted it a few times, and simply said, “I know.  I know.”  But that’s the thing:  I just don’t know.  I don’t know how the families who lost their loved ones this way are going on.  My heart broke for them, as did everyone’s here in Newtown, neighboring towns, everywhere.

Newtown 2012, 3

The first time I traveled following the shooting was in February or March 2013.  I was meeting several advocates who were members of a panel on which I was also serving.   As we got to know one another, we exchanged business cards, but I found that I did so reluctantly–because I knew what was going to happen.  Two of the women with whom I’d exchanged cards were sitting directly across from me on the other side of a large table.  It took about a minute.  They then, simultaneously, looked up, held my card out to the other, pointed to the name of my town, and mouthed, “Oh my God: she’s from Newtown!”  Later in the meeting, they both came up to me separately, saying how sorry they were and asking how all of us in Newtown were coping with the horror that happened in our sweet town.  And this is what I told them:

There is absolutely no way to put the experience, this tragedy into words.  It is simply unspeakable.  But with the horror had also come such kindness, giving, and love.  As I mentioned before, following the tragedy, I saw countless random acts of kindness here in Newtown.  For many months, there were green and white ribbons on almost every telephone pole in town (representing Sandy Hook Elementary School’s colors), and beautiful little painted stars also appeared on the poles with words like “courage,” “love,” and “friendship” to honor those we lost.  Comfort dogs were brought to town right after the tragedy occurred, and they continued to visit Newtown’s schools for months.  Several charities have been established to help the families who lost loved ones; to establish scholarships for children who want to become teachers, celebrating the lives of the brave women who were lost that day; and to help some of the first responders who haven’t been the same since they saw the unseeable.

One of these charities is called Ben’s Lighthouse, which “was created in honor of Ben Wheeler and his Sandy Hook classmates to promote the long-term health of the children and families in the region while nurturing an environment of non-violence and caring.”  As Christopher Murray, psychotherapist and friend of the Wheelers wrote in an article entitled “The last time I saw Ben Wheeler,” “Benny loved lighthouses… Since he’s been gone, lighthouses have become a symbol and a metaphor for him and his martyrdom. His spirit and his memory shine a strong and penetrating beam of light through clear nights and stormy ones to confer upon us awareness, and to bring us safely home.”

Please join me in praying for the families of all those so brutally lost to this unthinkable tragedy:

– Charlotte Bacon, 2/22/06, female
– Daniel Barden, 9/25/05, male
– Rachel Davino, 7/17/83, female.
– Olivia Engel, 7/18/06, female
– Josephine Gay, 12/11/05, female
– Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 04/04/06, female
– Dylan Hockley, 3/8/06, male
– Dawn Hochsprung, 06/28/65, female
– Madeleine F. Hsu, 7/10/06, female
– Catherine V. Hubbard, 6/08/06, female
– Chase Kowalski, 10/31/05, male
– Jesse Lewis, 6/30/06, male
– James Mattioli , 3/22/06, male
– Grace McDonnell, 12/04/05, female
– Anne Marie Murphy, 07/25/60, female
– Emilie Parker, 5/12/06, female
– Jack Pinto, 5/06/06, male
– Noah Pozner, 11/20/06, male
– Caroline Previdi, 9/07/06, female
– Jessica Rekos, 5/10/06, female
– Avielle Richman, 10/17/06, female
– Lauren Rousseau, 6/1982, female
– Mary Sherlach, 2/11/56, female
– Victoria Soto, 11/04/85, female
– Benjamin Wheeler, 9/12/06, male
– Allison N. Wyatt, 7/03/06, female

Newtown, December 2012

“A New Layer of Pain” for Our Newtown Community

This morning began with a very upsetting bit of news.  I’d been mercifully away from the U.S. news for a few days, having been in England.  As a cancer research advocate, I’d had the honor of serving as a panel speaker during a joint European Medicine Agency (EMA)/Clinical Trials Transformation Initiative (CTTI) session in London. ( But more on that in a future blog …)

While I was away, it turned out that we also had trouble with our cable TV.  So this morning, while still bleary-eyed from jet lag, I talked to the cable company, managed to get the snafu resolved without too much frustration, and then turned on the TV to catch up with the news while having my morning coffee … and was immediately upset by the very first news item I heard.  Like many of you, I suspect, I find most of today’s news infuriating, sad, or tragic.  But this news item was personally upsetting to me and undoubtedly to many in my Newtown community:  I learned that the Sandy Hook 911 tapes were released today, following a ruling by a Connecticut state judge:  i.e., just 10 days before the “one-year anniversary” of the tragic events that occurred here in Newtown on December 14, 2012.   And the fact is that most of us here have been absolutely dreading the arrival of 12/14, fearing the repeated onslaught of media, the horrifying memories that remain all too raw, and the renewed grief for all those who have been irrevocably affected by this terrible tragedy.

I almost always agree with the sentiments of Newtown’s First Selectman, Pat Llodra–and that’s the case once again.  In response to the news that the tapes were being released today, she stated that this would only serve “to create a new layer of pain for many in the Newtown community.”   Some folks throughout the country have argued that releasing the tapes to the AP would be a matter for the “public good.”  And the judge who ruled to release the tapes noted that doing so could help by “showing the professionalism of the first responders and pointing to anything that might be done differently in future emergencies.”  But my own response to that is, Was the professionalism of the first responders ever in doubt?  If so, I’d find that absolutely shocking, since to a person, I’ve heard nothing but a world of respect, awe, and admiration for the first responders who served the people of Newtown and Sandy Hook that day.  And “what might be done differently”-or, said another way, what should be changed?  The official investigation examined these questions up, down, and sideways, as it should have: those few questions that could be answered were, and the investigation is now closed.  And most would agree that following the events of that terrible day, in pondering the imponderable, our towns, cities, states, and federal government–our society overall–has already been profoundly changed in countless ways (for better or worse or both?), whether looking at the subject and tenor of our ongoing national conversation on violence, increased spending in the last year on mental health in most states and implementation of measures to make treatment more accessible for children and adults with mental illness, additional security changes put into place, new gun-control legislation proposed, and on and on and on.

Judge Eliot Prescott

New Britain, CT Superior Court Judge, Eliot Prescott, Rules That He “Will Listen to Sandy Hook 911 Recordings”

So what is there to gain by listening to these horrific events as they unfold, by graphically hearing the very voices of those who lived–or tragically, did not live–through them?  As a Newtown resident who loves my community, I would argue, Nothing, except for renewed pain and heartbreak.

To read the eloquent words of Pat Llodra in response to the release of the 911 tapes, simply click here:  PERSONAL REACTION TO THE RELEASE OF THE 911 TAPES – December 4, 2013; Pat’s Blog: One Newtown.

Moving Us Forward

Before the 911 tapes were released, Pat reflected on how those in our Newtown community will be handling the arrival of December 14th: “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.”   My hope is that everyone will understand and honor Pat’s thoughts and wishes for our Newtown community.

After the Tragic Events in Newtown: A Doctor’s Vision

For Newtown’s Children and Yours …

I first met him on an early winter day during one of the most frightening days of my life.  Minutes before, I had been diagnosed with breast cancer–almost exactly 20 years to the day when I’d learned I had stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 22.  Now, two decades later, my biopsy for breast cancer had been positive, and my new general surgeon, Dr. John Famiglietti, had gently broken the news.  He then quietly counseled me that I should strongly consider having not one mastectomy, but a bilateral procedure, since my cancer was almost certainly due to the radiation I’d received as part of my treatment for Hodgkin’s.

I was terrified, overwhelmed, tearful, and in a complete daze, and my husband, who was similarly bewildered, was doing everything he could to comfort me.  Dr. Famiglietti then said he wanted to ask a favor of me: he asked if I would give him permission to introduce me to a young colleague of his.  He explained that he practiced in the same building with a plastic surgeon.  Dr. Famiglietti described him as an extremely talented surgeon who also was simply a wonderful person, and he suspected that I would be very comfortable with him as a member of my new healthcare team.  He paused for a moment and then gently explained that because of my previous radiation to the chest, it was crucial that my team include a plastic surgeon who was highly skilled and experienced, and he had worked many times as a team with this plastic surgeon.  Through the haze, I and my husband managed to agree, and a few minutes later, Dr. Famiglietti brought Dr. Michael Baroody into my exam room.

Even though everything truly felt unreal at that point, I do remember being immediately struck by the wonderful professional relationship and level of mutual respect that the MDs clearly had for each other.  And despite feeling that my life had just dramatically shifted, I began to feel a sense of comfort that these two doctors may well be caring for me literally as a team during my upcoming surgery.  I had to take some time to recover from my news and to carefully consider all my options.  But ultimately, I sensed even then that they would be working hand in hand during my unilateral or bilateral mastectomy and during what I prayed would be immediate reconstruction.

I was correct in that—and both doctors soon became what I often refer to as my human angels on earth.  It did turn out that because I’d had radiation to the chest, my options were few.  I was thin—far too thin—at the time (which is no longer an issue 🙂 ).  Therefore, there was literally nothing of mine that could be used for reconstruction.  The only realistic option was for me to have tissue expanders placed immediately after my mastectomy, which would ultimately be exchanged for breast implants after the expansion procedures were completed.  But Dr. Baroody was completely forthright with his concern about my irradiated skin.  By that point, it was absolutely critical to me that we be able to proceed with reconstruction immediately after the mastectomy.  I couldn’t bear the thought of waking up after the surgery, bringing my hand to my chest—and feeling nothing there.  The very thought made me completely fall apart.  Just days before the surgery, I called Dr. Baroody’s office in a complete panic.  He called me back in less than 2 minutes—utterly amazing—and listened carefully as I explained my fear about waking up and learning that they hadn’t been able to proceed with immediate reconstruction due to my irradiated skin.  I couldn’t shake the worry, and I was absolutely petrified.  As long as I live, I will never forget Dr. Baroody’s next words to me.  As always, his voice was calm, and his words were direct, yet also reassuring.  He said, “Deb, I promise you, if Plan A doesn’t work, we’ll then go to Plan B.  There is always a Plan B.  And please, let me do the worrying for you.  It’s going to be okay.”  When I hung up the phone, my panic was gone.  I knew with 100% certainty that I was in the best hands I could ever ask for and that Dr. Baroody cared about my health and well-being just as much as I did.

A few days later, when I woke up after what I’d ultimately decided should be a bilateral mastectomy, I raised the courage to bring my hand to my chest, and I felt … the tissue expanders just where my breasts had been.  And when I looked down, I saw cleavage (oh, I have never been so happy to see my cleavage 🙂 ).  I closed my eyes with relief, and when I next opened them, I saw my husband, my sister, and the doctors—my human angels on earth—who had given me this gift.

What I didn’t know at the time was that, like me and my husband, Dr. Baroody and his young family live in Newtown.  And today, more than 6 years later, Dr. Baroody is bringing his passion, excellence, and dedication to the children and families in our community who have been inalterably affected by the tragic events that occurred here.  Knowing him as I do, I can’t think of anything more appropriate, more completely right.

And so, without further ado, I ask you to read Dr. Baroody in his own words, where he so passionately and humbly describes his critical efforts for Newtown’s children—as well as for your and ultimately everyone’s children–in a world that was profoundly changed on December 14, 2012 in Sandy Hook Elementary School, just nine minutes away from where I sit in my home today.

Dr. Michael Baroody

Dr. Michael Baroody’s Vision: The 12.14 Foundation

 Upon First Hearing the News …

 “I was in my office.  An employee said that there was a shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary school. Initially, it was that someone, a teacher, was shot in the foot.  At that point, I called my wife, and I told her to pick up our kid in Sandy Hook.  I don’t care what progresses and what happens after that, I don’t want gunfire anywhere near my kid.

“So then it started progressing, and as more and more information started coming through the Internet, and patients started coming in and were saying ‘Did you hear about this?,’ I didn’t really process it.  It takes me a little bit of time to digest the information; I’m not one of those people who react strongly right away.  I process it, and then I start to understand exactly what’s going on. So as the day went on, it became more and more real for me as more information came in–actually more and more surreal, I should say. ‘How is this even happening?’ And then I just went home and kept calling, making sure my kids were safe.  One was in lock down in first grade in a different Newtown Elementary School.  And then, when my wife went to go get our other daughter in Sandy Hook at the preschool, that was under lock down, and a lot of the parents were going to my child’s school parking lot and running to the Fire House.  When I got home, it was pretty emotional: I just wanted to see my kids, to be with them as more and more information came in.

“First, you heard that they were chasing a suspected van and then there were accomplices on foot.  We had no idea of whether it was one person, if it’s over or not, or where your kids are, and if they’re safe or what’s going on.  That was difficult, and our kids were under lock down, and we had to go get them and make sure they’re okay.  It was interesting: I was relieved that my kids were okay, but because this happened, it wasn’t like, ‘Phew, I’m so relieved it’s over.’  People were calling me and saying, ‘I’m so glad that your kids are okay.’ My feeling was not anywhere near okay. It was not okay; there was nothing okay about it. If it wasn’t my kids, it was their friends [who were] their age.  It really hit me the worst when scrolling down the names, when they finally released the names, and I saw that one of my patients was there [whom] I had seen a couple weeks earlier. That’s when it hit me even harder.  I didn’t think it was going to be any worse.  It really got worse at that point.”

The Idea to Create a Living, Breathing Remembrance

 “It wasn’t right away. The way I approach things in life is that if there’s a problem, I try to fix it.  That’s what I do for a living. I see a problem, and I fix it.  Even in a situation where there’s a kid, I see kids who were mauled by dogs or kids who were run over by lawn mowers, horrible things. But when I go into the Emergency Department, the only feeling I have is that ‘I’m glad I’m here.  I’m going to make this better.’ I can’t reverse time, but I can make this better.  It’s not this feeling of ‘What am I going to do?   I’m powerless over what happened.’  I want to get there; I want to make this kid better. That’s why I studied so much, all this time, was to make the situation better. But the problem with this, what happened, when I think about it, is there’s nothing I can do.  I can’t reconstruct things or make their lives better.  I can’t do it.  They’re not here anymore.  So that was difficult in itself, especially a patient of mine who trusted me, who I took to the operating room, who I had a special relationship with. The feeling was not getting better over time.  And I was thinking, well what is it that can be done, that’s going to make this better, that’s going to serve the needs of the kids who survived this and serve as a living, breathing remembrance of the kids who were lost? There’s no way that it’s acceptable to me to have a static monument that’s just for sadness, that’s just going to decay over time, that’s going to rust.  It’s unacceptable to me.  We need something that is going to be a breathing remembrance of these kids.

The 12.14 Foundation / The Newtown Project: a Landmark Performing Arts Center

Newtown flagpole

“Architecture in many ways can express emotion and feelings.  When you are in a building that was constructed for a purpose or passion, you feel the presence of those people long after they’re gone.  So I thought that was one way, because there are no words to describe how bad this is. It would be another way to get this out and to express it, because how are we going to do that? There have got to be ways other than verbal communications to address a problem like this.  I feel like the performing arts is another way to do that. And then it all made sense, to build a performing arts center.  Because the building itself is that type of architecture, and what goes on inside the building is the actual feeling and the enrichment of lives inside that monument, I suppose.  So that’s how it came about, and that all made sense.” 

“There are no words to describe how bad this is.”

“Additionally, the building can be a national stage for social discussions and debate. Whatever the truth is, however it’s supposed to go, it can be a national and even a global platform.  If you’re going to talk about these issues, what better place than in Newtown, CT?  So it just keeps building on itself: so one being the building itself, the second being a performing arts school, so these kids are strengthened and able to express themselves, basically to give them tools–because it’s our responsibility to not just be there for these kids, to heal them and show support, but we now have to put them on a different path.  We have to put them on a path not where they were going before, which was a good path, but we have to give them opportunity to be the best, to reach their potential, to be the best they possibly can be, whatever that may be, whatever they want to work for.  It’s all about working hard and giving them inner tools to succeed in life.  It’s much better than giving them a one-time entertainment event. Okay, you want to go to a baseball game?  That’s fine, but that’s not going to heal.  That’s not going to give them the tools that they need to succeed in life. When they start turning into fathers and mothers themselves, when they start having their own kids, even before, when they go to college and are leaving Newtown, when they don’t have the support here anymore, they’re not going to think about a baseball game.  They’re not going to think about a free concert.  They’re going to say, ‘Who am I, and do I know myself, and am I confident?  Do I have support, and am I strong?’ That’s what they’re going to want; that’s what they’re going to need. So it’s our responsibility to give that.”

Children at Risk

“No doubt about it: you see certain kids, and they experience a trauma or some event in their lives, and they actually get stuck in that moment. They never grow up.  They’re still that scared little kid.  Their whole lives, they act certain ways, and they never evolve and grow, because they’re stuck. So if we can break them out of that.  The most important thing to understand is that this is the situation I see in Newtown.” 

“It’s our responsibility in this community to lift these kids up …”

“Let’s say you have a kid, and you’re going into a supermarket, and your kid is running around and falls down and skins his knee on the ground.  The first thing that happens is that you turn around, and the kid looks up at you. And that kid has to make a decision on what he’s going to do at that point.  Is he going to cry, or is he going to whimper a little bit and press forward?  And it’s going to be the reaction of their parents that is going to dictate that.  And if you say, ‘Oh no, oh my God’ and you start getting all upset, then they start crying uncontrollably, right?  But if you say, ‘Let’s get up and brush that off.  Let’s go; we’re going to do something else,’ and they whimper a little bit, and then they don’t dwell.  They press on.  So it’s our responsibility in this community to lift these kids up, not to say, ‘Oh my God; poor you.’ They need to be comforted initially which evolves into strengthening.  Otherwise, they’re going to claim to be the victim for the rest of their lives.  They will be ‘those kids from Newtown,’ and that’s unacceptable to me. What we need to do is pick them up and take them somewhere else, and they’ll heal along the way.  Not ignore it, as if it didn’t happen, [but] we need to face it, attack it, and build something together.  Because they’re going to look around at their peers and see how people were affected and there’s strength and that they’re not alone– ‘that person’s my brother now or my sister, and we’re together in this’, and that’s how you can attack the world.  You’re not by yourself in your bedroom on a 4-acre lot. It doesn’t work that way.  So that’s the premise.”

In remembrance

The 12.14 Foundation, The Newtown Project:
To Remember, To Honor, To Heal, and To Inspire

Debut of the 12.14 Foundation’s First Event

The 12.14 Foundation is currently sponsoring its first performing arts’ event, the musical Seussical, which is described on the Foundation’s website as a “fantastical, magical, musical extravaganza … that lovingly brings to life all of our favorite Dr. Seuss characters,’ including Horton The Elephant and The Cat in the Hat.  It “celebrates the powers of friendship, loyalty, family, and community,” with multiple performances to be held between August 9th and August 11th.

When asked what comes next for the 12.14 Foundation following their debut of Seussical, Dr. Baroody explained:

 “We are brainstorming right now. Our goal is not to be focused on any particular genre of the performing arts.  The vision is ‘let’s have multiple different ways to help kids express themselves.’ It has to be a wide range of performing arts.  So we may have a rock band come in.  We may have kids learning how to play the guitar or learning how to sing popular music.  That might be next. We’ll have to see.  Or we may do a play, like a children’s Shakespearean play or opera.  Or maybe a dance performance.  We’re talking about bringing in professionals from around the world to interact with these kids, to inspire them and teach them things that they couldn’t have had before, to give them opportunities.  They need to work for it, they need to earn it; you make a plan, and you have to fight for it.  That’s the whole point: they have to fight, because what happens to you when tragedy happens [is that] there are 3 options. You can become the victim, and that becomes who you are now.  You can try to ignore it.  Or you can fight it head on. So this can be an example of how you fight.  You do something that’s going to affect people’s lives. It’s a lot of work.  It’s a lot to try to get something like this going, but that’s the point. It better be difficult.  It should be.  It has to be.  Easy responses typically make that person feel better.  Unfortunately, that’s not enough.” 

“…This is a vehicle, [and] it’s not ‘performing arts for performing arts’ sake.’ It is what performing arts can do for people that I care about.”

“It’s not about you feeling better but making them feel better, because it’s hard work to try to make something like this happen.  I’m not a performing arts person.  Some people have difficulty grasping that. ‘How are you even doing all this without any experience?’ The goal is for these kids to have a place to express themselves.  The performing arts is a vehicle to get to that point, so it’s not ‘performing arts for performing arts’ sake.’  It is what the Arts can do for people that I care about.  So I don’t need to know how to dance or sing.  That’s why I bring in the best people in the world to tell me what needs to be done, and they can do it.  I appreciate the power of the Arts.” 

Seussical

12.14 Foundation Presents “Seussical” the Musical!

When asked what the response has been when he’s reached out to people, Dr. Baroody shared the following:

“When I first came up with this concept, it was Super Bowl Sunday or right around there in February.   I’d thought about it a little earlier, but this was when I started to act on it and started to tell people about the vision and what I wanted to do.  I met with construction people in Newtown and some of the more influential people in Newtown and said, ‘Listen, you need to put me on your plan, because this is going to happen.’ It took a little convincing, but they understood that I was serious about it.  So then I said, ‘Okay, well, I don’t know a lot of people from the performing arts.’ So I just starting Googling, ‘Who is the best in the world at this? Who’s the best in the world at that?,’ and then I  contacted them.  The response has been really good.  But if they [responded with], ‘You know what? I really respect what you’re doing, but I don’t feel it’s a good fit,’ I’d then  say, ‘Okay, tell me who is a good fit?’ Who’s your friend? And if you don’t know, what’s your brother’s phone number? What’s your mother’s phone number?  I don’t care; I’m not getting off the phone until you tell me where else I’m going to go.  Just point me in the right direction and I’ll get there.’

“So I did that with PR firms, marketing companies, theater consultants, law firms, accounting firms, entertainment companies, and the list goes on.  And when I started with them, they knew people, and then they knew people.  And [then it was a matter of] just calling and calling and then having meeting after meeting after meeting after meeting.  And you end up with a core of people who have a passion for the vision.  And that’s all I care about, that people really believe in it, not just their name or how much money they have or what they’ve done in the past.  That’s great, but that doesn’t mean anything to me. The thing that’s important to me is that you have the tools and passion to help make this happen.  And I’ve gotten very good response, because I would say, for multiple different reasons, the whole world is affected by this, and the reason why it’s called the ‘12.14 Foundation’ is because it is a date in time that has affected everybody on the planet.  It’s not just Newtown.  It is not just for the people of Newtown.  I don’t feel that Newtown really should be defined by this, though it very well may be for now. It’s not a reflection of Newtown, it’s a reflection on humanity basically.”

“…the whole world is affected by this, and the reason why it’s called ‘The 12.14 Foundation’ is because it’s a date in time that has affected everybody on the planet.”

“So the response has been really positive, but it’s like everything else.  You have to really stay on top of people.  If they’re going to put in an hour of their time, they’re going to feel that I’ve put in 20 hours of my time.  It’s those types of organizations where you [feel that with] everything that you do, someone’s going to take that and then exponentially grow it, that ideal or that work.  And the people involved are not afraid to take the garbage out, they’re not afraid to get their hands dirty and stay up late at night.  So I think that people are more [inclined] to join this type of organization.  Things are expected of them, but they feel that they’re going to see progress every day, that things are moving forward because of their efforts and because of everyone else around them.  And it’s interesting, because everybody involved really has nothing to prove to anybody; they’re all accomplished, they’re all well-respected.  They don’t really need to do this, but everything they do is purely from a good place, which is a great group of people to be around.” 

Dr.Baroody then brought together his thumb and forefinger and said the following:

“Because I basically tell everybody, ‘you’re this big.  We’re all this big, that’s it.’ So this event distilled us down to the core of who we are.  Because we’re not doing this for each other; we’re doing it for a much bigger cause–something much bigger than any one of us.”

How Others Can Help

“It’s a long process.  So there are different phases to this project.  During the first phase, it’s really awareness, becoming involved, and giving support by following the project and telling people about it, getting the word out about what this actually is.

“We need seed money to get the first phase underway.  That phase consists of a feasibility study and for the theater project consultants to outline the structure.  In my mind, it’s hypocritical to say, ‘Oh, we’re going to build a performing arts center to help these kids in Newtown, but they can’t use it for another 5 years.’ So what’s going to happen to these kids over the next 5 years? It’s not about the venue per se.  So you don’t shut the door until this thing is done, [and] that 5 year old is now 10.  So what we’re going to do is continue these programs and productions to have people get involved.  They can come to the show [Seussical] and support these kids.  

“The performing arts is an interaction between the performers and the audience.  There’s applause; there’s laughter.  You, the audience, become part of the performance and share time and support these children and young adults.  They’re rehearsing from 9 to 6 on some days, 6 days a week for 5 weeks.  There are 86 kids performing, and there are 20 apprenticeships. So there are kids who may want to be a director or a choreographer or possibly a stage designer or a costume designer or in lighting. So these New York City professionals are joining up with the kids even on the production side too, because it’s about getting involved, it’s about the process.

Seussical Comes to Newtown

Appearance on FOX CT, “Suessical” Comes to Newtown, CT

“It has to be at the highest level for multiple different reasons.  Because one, why are we doing this?  We’re doing this in remembrance of these kids; doing something that’s less than the best that I and the organization can possibly give, anything less than that is unacceptable. We might not be able to get every single person in the world involved, but we’re going to fight to get the best, because there’s no reason that our kids don’t deserve the best in the world.  That’s the bottom line.

Seussical rehearsal

“Seussical” the Musical in rehearsal

 “It seems like when someone approaches me with an idea, the first question I have is, ‘Is this going to improve the lives of these kids?’  So if they can answer that question or if it’s ‘Oh, I don’t know, not really,’ then it’s not part of this. It can’t be bogged down by wasting time doing things that are not ultimately going to make their lives better and stay consistent with the vision.  So that’s why it’s interesting: when I’m in a meeting with some of the best people in the world at what they do, invariably, they stop, and they ask, ‘Does this make sense with what we’re trying to do here?’”

“…When someone approaches me with an idea or a question, the first question I have is, ‘Is this going to improve the lives of these kids?”

A Global Impact

“The most important aspect of this is once again the focus on the kids, not only on the kids who survived this or in Newtown or in Connecticut, or in the country, but in the world. There was a fundamental loss of security, of trust, that was taken from so many people from this event.  And again as a kid, it’s so important that you don’t forget about that and do not say,’ We’re just going to move on,’ because it will manifest itself at some other point in their lives, and it’s our responsibility; it’s not a choice to make.  It’s a responsibility to be there for them at this time in a very meaningful, long-term way.

“So what you can do to help is to support the Foundation, support it with awareness, support it financially, support it with connections that you may have, people you know who may be able to help us accomplish the vision.  Attend the events.  This will not just trickle down to other people, it will be an avalanche: from Newtown, it will affect the world.  So this is not just about Newtown, that’s what people need to understand.”

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Dr. Baroody,
Thank you for your dedication and drive, your compassion, and your passion — for your patients, for the children of Newtown, and for children everywhere. 
        ~ Debra Madden, a grateful patient, a proud Newtownian, and a supporter of the 12.14 Foundation
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To support the 12.14 Foundation and to learn more about the upcoming “Seussical,” the Musical, and future events, please:

           –> Visit their website at http://www.1214foundation.org

           –> Like their Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/1214Foundation

           –> Follow them on Twitter at https://twitter.com/1214foundation

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Seeing “Seussical, the Musical”: After the Show …

My husband and I had the pleasure of seeing “Seussical” last Saturday night, and I wanted to share as much of the experience as I can with you as a follow-up to my interview with Dr. Baroody above.

But quite honestly, it’s extremely difficult to put into words just how wonderful it was.  As Dr. Baroody said during our conversation a few weeks ago, sometimes words simply aren’t enough.   But I’m going to do my best.

The truth is that last Saturday’s performance truly wasn’t “simply” a musical.  From the moment that Dr. Baroody stepped on stage to introduce the show, the audience seemed to become one with the performers.  We weren’t sitting in our chairs and watching from afar: we were so vested in the performance that we all became a part of it ourselves.  These children and young adults were not solely talented actors and actresses: for all of us in the audience, they were our children, our Newtownian children, part of our community’s family.  And that first moment when dozens and dozens of young children ran out onto the stage, many as young as 5 years old, I doubt that there was a dry eye in the house:  the music, the acting, the set, the costumes, the lights … the joy, the imagination, the months of hard work, the dedication, the mentoring, the new friendships, the making of new and wonderful memories, the magic that The 12.14 Foundation brought into these kids’ lives.

The show itself was moving from start to finish: it was sweet, funny, joyful, magical, and heartwarming.  The leading actors and actresses were true talents, with beautiful powerful voices.  To a person—or should I say to a “Who”—everyone on that stage, behind it, and up on the light towers—did a spectacular job.   And seeing all those children–a total of 84 from ages 5 to 18–running on and off the stage, singing, dancing, jumping, twisting in sheer joy: it was better than any Broadway play I’ve ever seen.

And there was nearly as much action in the audience as on stage.  We were laughing, applauding, whistling, shouting, and leaping to our feet.  And many of us were wiping our eyes for most of the show.

We’re so proud of all the Newtown children and families who worked so hard and poured their hearts and souls into “Seussical,” this, the first of The 12.14 Foundation’s efforts.   What started with Dr. Baroody’s vision is now the reality of The 12.14 Foundation:  a remarkably special Foundation that has begun to bring healing, growth, unparalleled opportunities, and joy to Newtown’s children.   And this is what our Newtown audience saw last Saturday night and why it’s something that most of us will certainly never forget.