Where’s the Safety Net?
I don’t claim to know anything about how a human brain can go completely haywire and spray thousands of bullets into a crowd of fans at a music festival, as in Las Vegas three days ago. Or drive a speeding car into a crowd of counter-protesters, as in Charlottesville a month ago. Or gun down children in an elementary school, as in Sandy Hook five years ago, or….etc.
I do claim to teach people how to bounce back from the anger, fear, and trauma that such events can trigger. From natural disasters like the earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires sweeping our globe. From the agony of losing a loved one in a car accident or to a surgery suddenly gone wrong. To cope with the deep dread when the bottom falls out and it seems like there’s no safety net to keep us from falling all the way into paralysis and despair.
I will teach tools to cope with disaster again next week at the 23rd National Counseling Skills Conference – in Las Vegas.
Here are three suggestions I believe can be immediately practical:
1. Trust in the order inherent in the bigger picture.
We react so viscerally to tragedies like the Las Vegas shootings or hurricanes Harvey and Irma because we know in our gut that this is wrong. This is not the way it’s supposed to be. And even though we may have learned that part of coming to terms with tragedy is coming to terms with “bad things happen to good people” at a deeper level we know “this isn’t supposed to be happening at al!”
And so we have to dive deeper to find refuge and resource in a re-Source, whatever that means to you. Even on days when we’d rather curse God and stay in bed, the sun comes up every morning, as it has from the earth’s perspective for 4.5 billion years.
Human beings have suffered loss and pain throughout human existence; loss and pain are part of human existence because we care, and because we dare. We live in a larger cosmos, and that cosmos has “laws” of order and harmony that are deeper than anything we can comprehend from our personal perspective. Some people find refuge in a religious faith, a belief in God, a higher power. Some in the inter-connection of all human beings in an unbreakable web of hundreds of thousands of years. The largest perspective possible helps hold the searing pain of the very particular, the very specific.
2. Trust in love.
Even as the gunman was spraying bullets into the festival crowd in Las Vegas last Monday, people were sheltering the bodies of those they loved; strangers were helping strangers over the fences. Compassion for common humanity is one of the most powerful forces in the universe, and we find a safety net for ourselves again witnessing that that is true.
3. Trust in taking action.
Some people will volunteer to help those injured or homeless because of an unfathomable tragedy. Some will work hard to make sure nothing like this could ever happen again or impact so many. But I also mean taking action to honor still being alive yourself and being able to take action. Overcoming any despair or paralysis or guilt by – hugging your children or planting some flowers or playing music with friends. I’ve always been impressed by the news that refugees will plant flowers in the two feet of dirt in front of their tent.
This from the late Howard Thurman, African-American pastor in San Francisco:
Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.
Trust, love, act. Meeting whatever doesn’t make sense with what deeply makes sense. Building the safety net, moment by moment, for yourself and for your larger world.