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It’s 9.30pm and I’m watching the special edition of 20/20 on ABC about the Newtown shooting.  Normally my own experience with trauma prevents me from watching such things – it brings forth too much of my own pain.  But something about this unfolding nightmare has me glued to the TV, watching the drama unfold.  Why is it that I’m able to feel so much compassion for the members of this community?  What draws us all in to watch tragedies like these?

One of the things that has struck me is the sense of community and faith present in this town.  Ever since the Gilmore Girls, I’ve idealised life in a small town in Connecticut.  This beautiful little place called Newtown is probably my ideal place to live.

So many things about this tragedy are profoundly moving – the 29 year old teacher who loaded her 15 first grade students into a 3ft x 4ft bathroom, protecting them to the point of even having the police slide their badges under the door when they came to rescue them.  And another 27 year old who died trying to move her students into the closet, putting herself between the gunman and her first graders.  The calmness and centredness of parents at the scene, collecting their students, footage of a church service held tonight, the way everyone gathers together and becomes their best.

It reminds me of the day my brother died when I said to my friends, “It’s moments like these when you know you’re truly alive.  It’s like everything else just stops and you become so intensely present.  And the way we’re all being so connected to and caring for each other, wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone was like this all the time?”

Losing a loved one suddenly, especially a child or young person, is one of the most tragic things anyone could ever experience and something that nobody should have to go through.  But watching the way the people of Newtown, their first responders, priests and rabbis, seeing the candlelight and prayer vigils being held in Newtown and around the country, I’m struck by two things.  Firstly, how we become extraordinary in the face of overwhelming tragedy, secondly the faith and fellowship of Americans.  Americans have a connection with and empathy for each other that Australians just don’t seem to have.  God bless these beautiful people and may their faith carry them through what will be the worst trauma of their lives.

Of course it brings to mind Australia’s only mass shooting – in Port Arthur, Tasmania.  In 1996 it was the scene of the worst mass murder in Australia’s post-colonial history.  The Port Arthur massacre remains one of the deadliest shootings worldwide committed by a single person, with 35 killed and 23 wounded.  Gun control laws, which had been relatively lenient before the massacre, were reviewed and tightened significantly after the incident.

Mass shootings in the U.S. in 2012: 15

People killed at mass shootings in 2012: 84

US school shootings since Columbine: 40+