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In the Suburbs / An unexpected connection to Sandy Hook

Published 6:04 am, Thursday, January 17, 2013
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During the usual gathering of our quilting guild Monday at a church in Stratford, my wife and I learned that several of our quilters had shared a connection with one of the heroic teachers slain at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Victoria Soto had been a lifetime member of the church, and her standing-room-only funeral was one of the largest ever held there.

Victoria lost her life acting as a human shield for some of her first graders, covering them with her body. We learned that she was a beautiful person inside and outside, and her family was well known in the church.

One of our guild coordinators, Barbara, said the funeral was special for a lot of reasons, even beyond the throngs of mourners that included fellow teachers and families of slain children. Singer-songwriter Paul Simon was there and performed his classic "Sounds of Silence." Barbara said it seemed to affect everyone.

Barbara said Simon apparently was drawn to the family's tragedy but also shared a common bond with it -- one of his siblings reportedly is a nurse, like Victoria's mom. During the funeral service, he sat near the family, Barbara said, and no one was aware of him until he went to the altar to sing.

Barbara met Simon before the service as she and a committee of congregants were setting up for a reception. She learned that he loves tea and always drinks a large cup before any performance. But when she searched for a church teapot, apparently the one she found was discolored and stained from years of use.

"So I rushed across the street to my house, opened one of my daughter-in-law's Christmas Gifts -- a teapot -- and used it for Paul's tea," Barbara said.

She chuckled about the reaction of a fellow congregant, who saw her serving Simon tea in a shiny, stainless-steel teapot. The woman told Barbara that, for an old teapot, it looked practically brand new. When Barbara told the woman that it was brand new and was, in fact, her daughter-in-law's Christmas gift, they both shared a laugh and agreed that the pot would be much more special having been used for Paul Simon.

Barbara called her daughter-in-law later in the day to tell her the news and received a glowing response.

She also spoke about the hundreds of mourners and other guests, who began arriving early in the morning to find parking. The lot behind the church is small, and police were directing drivers to any available lots in the Lordship section of town to accommodate the crowd. Barbara guessed that there were more than 500 people at the service, and an overflow crowd was able to watch a closed-circuit telecast on a monitor.

Marge, another of our guilders, said Victoria's bravery at Sandy Hook had made a mark in the congregation and that her actions were consistent with the kind of person she was.

Marge added that Victoria's family, like those of other victims, was having a particularly difficult time. But she spoke about the family's strength, too, and said that they would bounce back.

Hearing about just one of the victims of the horror at Sandy Hook in a six-degrees-of- separation fashion, showed me how much all of our lives can be impacted by such a tragedy. My wife likened Sandy Hook to a smaller-scale 9/11. As we were driving home, she said that she will probably well up with tears whenever anyone mentions Sandy Hook. I agreed.

We were grateful to hear the insights of the two women in our guild about Victoria Soto. There were a couple of others who didn't comment but had attended the service and were deeply affected by it.

Knowing more about who Victoria was and hearing how much she had touched the lives of her students and their families was very special. Despite her life having been cut short needlessly by bullets, Victoria Soto's spirit will live on in the church and now in the community, where Stratford's school board voted the next day to name a school in her honor.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at: steven.gaynes@yahoo.com.