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Amherst woman dedicates tree to victims in Newtown  

A fir tree in yard at 1408 South East Street in Amherst is draped in white lights in honor of  children and adults killed in the Newtown Conn., massacre.

LINDA ARONSON

A fir tree in yard at 1408 South East Street in Amherst is draped in white lights in honor of children and adults killed in the Newtown Conn., massacre. LINDA ARONSON

She asked herself how she could respond to the tragedy, and the answer was right outside her window.

Aronson’s 22-year-old daughter had a life-threatening illness last summer. She is healing and out of danger now, but Aronson still has a keen sense of fragile nature of life, she said.

“I understand being in a place of extreme vulnerability, where nothing makes sense and the mundane world is gone,” she said.

She heard about the Newtown tragedy not through the media but from a phone call from her daughter, who was crying on the other end of the line, she said. Aronson has worked as a teacher in Maine and knows what’s it’s like to be in a school like the one in Newtown, she said.

She wanted to do something to express her feeling of empathy with the victims and their families.

“One automatically thinks ‘What can I do?’ in such a hopeless situation,” Aronson said. “This tragedy is juxtaposed with the holidays, which are supposed to be a more merry time.”

She looked out the window of her house on South East Street and saw a 40-foot-tall fir tree. A week before, she had arranged to have it decorated with 750 lights. She had cleaned out the Hadley Wal-Mart of a certain type of holiday light and gone to the Northampton store to buy more.

Even though the tree is 100 feet back from the road, neighbors have commented on its understated beauty at night, she said. “People seem to be uplifted by it,” she said.

She decided to dedicate the tree to those whose lives were turned upside down by the school shootings in Newtown.

“Violence sickens us to our core, but in the end, love towers above all else,” she said. “That’s what the tree is meant to say.”

There’s no sign on the tree expressing solidarity with the Newtown families, because that would cheapen the statement, Aronson said. The lights are not glaringly commercial but soft white ones, in keeping with the tenderness of children, she said.

“Any parent can relate to what happened in Newtown; how could you not?” she said. “What I’m saying is ‘We’re with you and we’re thinking of you.’ Newtown isn’t its own little world but has rippling effects on all of us.”

Aronson said she was also influenced by a story she heard on the radio about the family member of a 9/11 victim who went to a memorial service for a victim of the Newtown shootings, to remember the people who had come to his own aid at a moment of tragic loss.

Tonight, she will meet with friends to look out at the tree, say prayers for the Newtown victims, and discuss the effects that the tragedy had on each person, she said. “Our holidays will be more solemn because of what happened,” she said.

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