It’s been a tense week. When I awoke on Sunday morning, my smart phone was bombarded with messages about the massacre that took place at Pulse Nightclub in Orlanda, FL, where a person donning an assault weapon took the lives of almost 50 people and hurt 50+ more. As if that was not sad enough, the establishment was one that specifically catered to the LGBTQI community and it was discovered that the horrific event had the definite makings of a hate crime. Over the past few days, there has been much said and many emotions expressed on social media and in private about what happened, from conspiracy theories to connections about how values and belief systems have made an event like this possible to people skipping over the loss of life to “Bible thumping”. With a tragedy of this magnitude, it isn’t lost on me that trauma can be compounded by what is said (and how it is said) or not said in the wake of a tragedy or traumatic event. But it seems to be lost on many others.
To be honest, the exposure to so many different opinions from all over the spectrum always makes me extremely tired and it’s very hard for me to practice emotional regulation during these instances. As I blogged about in my last post, I have tried hard to remain open-minded to people, even when their views are asinine to me and even when they are straight toxic, though I make it a point to try to use moments to educate folks about what I consider to be harmful about their words/actions. Some people refuse to consider any other view but their own, which is when I feel the most like losing it. I know I’m not alone in this so I thought about writing this post.
- When a traumatic event happens and it’s not about you, don’t make it about you. – The traumatic event on Sunday is about the unnecessary loss of life, the people of that community who are left to grapple with the implications of this tragedy, LGBTQI folks who have more reasons to fear that their lives are in danger and are undervalued in this country as a whole and in the communities that they inhabit, and the work that needs to be done to ensure that situations like this never happen again. It’s not about what people believe, it’s not a time to pray for the loss of life but add an asterisk to it…it’s not about any of that. It’s too hard to love people with all these conditions; in fact, I’d dare to say that’s not love at all. It’s OK not to take every opportunity to make everything about you.
- It’s OK to process before speaking. – In times like this, that great quote by MLK is in heavy circulation about us remembering the silence of our friends. I’m going to dare to be different and say that it is perfectly OK to process and think before you speak. Silence is uncomfortable for many of us because it goes against human nature, especially when you’re always being challenged to speak out or be labeled as a silent conspirator. But there are moments, and my training in counseling taught me this, where silence is the best course until speaking is beneficial. It is also helpful to keep in mind that some people talk and take no action. Being a person who talks with their feet is still admirable.
- Don’t undermine the ministry of presence. – This is a follow up to my previous point. It’s OK to just sit with people in their pain and in their hurt and just be there. A sermon is not necessary nor is a dissertation. Just be there for people and help them process.
- It’s OK to be kind, even to people you consider to be jerks. – This is so hard to do that many of us give up on it. But somewhere along the way, people who act like jerks had one too many people be jerks to them. One kind person could break the cycle.
- Protect your joy. – If you avail yourself to being with people, listening to people, advocating for people, there is a toll that it will take on you. It’s OK to disconnect sometimes, it’s OK to take a few deep breaths or a few screams, it’s OK to laugh even when people will try to hold you to crying and grief. This lesson was best illustrated to me during my internship at the hospital in GA. As a counseling intern, I worked weekend night shifts and was called on to be with patients and families during some of the most difficult moments. I also had to be available to the doctors and medical staff who may be having some difficulties processing what just happened. During the times that I’d respond to a crisis, it was not unusual to see medical staff be fully engaged while inside the patient’s room and tending to the patient’s family and then step out of the room, take a deep breath, and say something funny and totally unrelated to what was going on. The first time I saw this, I was disturbed and I was trying to figure out how or why they did this. I asked one of the staff members and he explained that it was a means of self-care. In the room and in the moment, it is super intense and it requires much out of those who are serving – mental energy, emotional energy, concentration, emotional regulation, etc. If you carry all of that intensity with you out of the room, you will go down fast and will not be any good for the next situation. So however you protect your joy – whether it be through laughing, crying, singing, screaming, running – do it and do it often.