how to honor a life lost too soon

in what is sure to be a week filled with media coverage surrounding last week’s mall and school shootings, it is important to make some decisions. these decisions, when converted to commitments to yourself, have the power to help you and the world.

this is likely going to be a hard week to move through. holiday music will be interspersed with news updates including information about the perpetrators and grisly details of how the impacted individuals died. this morning, in one such update, the news of the first funerals in connecticut was peppered with references to how many times the child had been shot. 

this kind of information does not help us.

this kind of information does not honor the life of the child who has been lost.

the power is in your hands this week to chose life with all it’s rich, difficult, complexities or to chose a powerless stuckness of sorts. it does not benefit the residents of the affected communities to ruminate on the tragedies that have occurred. it does not honor one’s life to focus on how one died.

unless you are actively working to determine more effective safety systems for shopping malls or schools, you are a coroner, you are a first responder who needs to work through your own trauma, or you are working to affect gun control laws or services for the individuals struggling with psychiatric disorders that make them prone to instability and violent behavior you will likely be more negatively impacted than positively helped by consuming alot of detailed news this week.

the individuals who died last week at the hands of gunmen were people with lives that i’m guessing were normal, extraordinary, interesting, unique, boring, and complex. instead of spending our time thinking about the way in which they died, let’s remember them for that...for having lived. for having been on this earth in their own crazy, unique, individual ways. for having mattered to those around them. 

so, when you feel tempted to ruminate on details, when you feel as though your heart might break for the families of those who are grieving, when you feel tempted to hold on to your own children (or mothers or brothers or husbands or friends) because you fear that they, too, could be taken at any moment, try to engage in life. breathe deeply, do something active to give voice to your hurt and sadness, love someone specifically and with wreckless abandon, journal, celebrate the life of someone important to you, write a letter, turn up the music and weep or dance or yell, pray, talk with someone that helps you feel better, and, mostly live. it’s the most potent way to honor the lives of those whose opportunity to do so has been taken.


when children are murdered

when children are killed everything feels wrong in the world. and it is.

twice this week, irrational acts of violence have taken lives in public places where murder should never happen. not that murder should happen anywhere at all. in both cases, children were impacted. some by bullets that took life or left scars and some by visions and experiences creating invisible scars deep inside the soul. 

it is not only the children at clackamas town center in oregon or at sandy hook elementary school in connecticut that will have to struggle to come to terms with what they have witnessed. because of a constantly connected population, it is nearly every child today who will see images and over-hear conversations that will likely trouble them and lead to disorienting questions about why such tragedies occur.

for this reason, and so many others, i beg of you to have self control when “consuming” the media. both today and in the future. both when you are alone and when you are with others. especially children. seriously.

some will say that staying in near constant touch with a trauma and it’s unfolding details helps people gain “mastery” over situations that are frightening and out of ones’ control. still others will offer that a deep sense of empathy can result from taking in the immensity and pain of a trauma by flooding onesself with visual and written accounts of the event. i’m not sure i support either claim.

i find that staring at a screen, gobbling up gory details, past the point where the basic facts are given typically leads people to feel powerless, paralyzed, angry, and scared. none of these responses help ones own internal sense of stability nor the internal worlds of those around them. passive consumption does nothing.

active processing, however, helps. talking about what has happened, in appropriate ways with appropriate people, gets it out of our heads and into a space where we can share the burden. answering the questions that children have with just what they’ve asked for (no more or less) makes them feel empowered to ask about that which unnerves them without the secondary trauma of being given information they aren’t ready for. being open to wondering with yourself, with God, and with others about why pain exists and how you, as someone outside the trauma, might be able to help soothe the hurt that exists in the world. mr. rogers once said, “whatever is mentionable is manageable.” if you are paralyzed with fear (or rage or sadness) you are not likely to “mention” this in ways that it can be worked with and through. the children and more vulnerable people in your life will see this. you and your entire community need to be able to mention that which is upsetting (in appropriate ways) and then move to active ways of working through.

talk about what’s bothering you, ask others what is bothering them, listen, draw a picture, run as fast as you can around the block, take some deep breaths, pray, write a letter to someone you know who has faced a loss in the recent past and who could use you reaching out to them, hammer some nails, jump some rope, pound some clay, cry, yell, and then...sing, hug someone, tell someone they matter to you, give your lunch to the homeless guy you passed on the way to the restaurant, go give blood, keep breathing, keep praying, keep talking. just, whatever you do, don’t just sit reading/watching the news paralyzed by the tragedy. that is no way to to live and certainly no way to honor the loss of life you are reading about.

as a person who has lost loved ones (including children) to murder i will tell you, the press wants the story. traumatized witnesses and communities want details in order to make sense of what has occurred. everyone else buzzes with anxious sadness that is palpable. just look at how social media has “lit up” today. 

when children are murdered...when anyone is murdered...they don’t need to be remembered by their deaths. their family members and loved ones don’t want the trauma surrounding their loss to be what is held on to. death by murder is such an ugly reality to try to wrap ones head around. so...today...right now...get the smallest amount of information you need then get moving. loving. living. empathically. lovingly. in ways that honor the lives of those whose lives were cut short.


gifts of another sort

i recently struck up a conversation with the kind gentleman accepting my returns at target. it was a bizarre transaction since i was exchanging 16 sports bras for a cart full of paper products. when you volunteer for a theater company you just never know what you’re going to be buying and bringing back. i thanked him profusely as he patiently scanned in the bar code of each bra, checking it against my receipt. he seemed surprised at the gratitude, which made me feel sad. come to find out, it’s rare for customers to exercise their freedom to give feedback when things are going well. “typcially,” he said, “the only time anyone comments on our customer service is when they find it lacking.” 

i thought about this all day. isn’t it grievously true that too often we save our comments for complaining? we may enjoy seven fantastic meals and only think to actually talk about the one we hated. we’re quick to return our “not quite to the perfect temperature” latte and yet never think to look into our barista’s eyes to thank them for doing the job they do. we enjoy clean bathrooms yet look away when those that make them so are pulling their cart in or out of the door and we only ask to speak to the manager when we are dissatisfied.

i am making a commitment to give comments of another sort this month. when i speak with a customer service rep of any kind on the phone and they simply engage with me efficiently, i’m asking to be transferred to their manager so that i can sing their praises. i’m taking 60 seconds to fill out comment cards and list peoples’ names that have helped me. when a manager is present i’m walking over to them and pointing at the amazing clerk and saying, “fantastic job you did hiring that wonderful person there! way to go!” i’m looking the person who pumps my gas (we can’t pump our own in oregon...i know...weird...) in the eye and saying, “what you do matters. thank you so much!” and i’m leaving notes and tips in my hotel rooms thanking those that clean and tidy. 

i am determined to give gifts that matter and gifts that last. gifts that are loud and bold enough to counter the criticisms usually spoken with little regard for their lasting effects. for gifts of graciousness build up and grow into graciousness in return.