Friday, September 29, 2006

Bailey Colorado Terror

My dear friend and writing partner Rich Van Pelt is speaking at the Bailey Colorado Community Worship Service tonight. Last night he asked what I would say if I were in his shoes. These are the reflections I sent him.

No one should ever have to think about such things. Everyone does.

• This is awful and totally without reason. no one in this community had this coming. we don't know much about the person who did this but we know he really and truly did evil here -- no excuses.

• Feel what you're feeling. there's not a right way to feel in reaction to your personal experience this week. But there may be a wrong way: if you stuff it; if you deny it; if you pretend that it affects you more or less or other than it actually is affecting you, that's not healthy, that's not fair to you and it's not fair to your friends and family and neighbors.

• On the other side of that is assuming everyone is having the same reaction to this experience that you are. Please be honest about your thoughts and feelings and generous about the thoughts and feelings other people express -- including the sure knowledge that people will do and say things they'll think twice about later. That's ok: getting your bearings in this kind of emotional storm sometimes includes taking some steps in a direction that won't lead you home. Please don't be afraid to backtrack a few steps and look for the path that will get you back where you belong.

• If I were the flight attendant on an airplane, one of the things i would tell you is what to do in the event of a cabin depressurization. You may already know what i would say: I would tell you that a mask will fall from the panel above you and that you should place that mask firmly over your nose and mouth and -- crazy as it sounds -- do your best to breathe normally.

Then I would tell you to help the people with you secure their masks.

• So what is that mask that falls from the overhead panel at times like this? For starters, I'm convinced it's God's mercy in this most unlikely and unacceptable circumstance. I'm convinced God enters dark valleys like the one you're in right now, not to teach you a lesson but to comfort you by his presence and prepare you to comfort other people by your presence.

• I think you are oxygen to each other -- that you'll get through this together -- that five years from now it won't be outsiders you'll remember bringing help, it will be your classmates and your neighbors in this community. So, get your own mask in place and turn as soon as you can to help the people near you who are in distress.

• Telling each other the story of what you experienced physically and emotionally and spiritually will help you heal. It will, whether you think that's true or not. People who go through the kind of trauma you've experienced who honestly and thoughtfully tell their stories to each other bounce back way faster than those who choose to, or have to go it alone. Please be patient listeners for each other; please be open with your own story to help others be open with theirs.

I'm not talking about strangers and media people here; I'm talking about locals. The job the media are here to do may not help you with the work you need to do in the next few days. I'm not saying they're bad or badly intentioned; I'm just saying their job and yours may not be the same right now. And it will seem like work. This kind of emotional experience involves a lot of heavy lifting. So, if you're tired, sleepy, emotionally spent, there's a good reason for that.

• If you experience flashbacks, vivid memories, intrusive thoughts and nightmares -- those are very common responses to this level of trauma. If you experience emotional numbness or hyper-arousal, sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, headaches, stomach complaints, dizziness, chest pain, irritability, outbursts of anger or feelings of intense guilt -- don't freak out; all those are normal in the first weeks after the kind of experience you've had.

If you're still experiencing these things when Halloween gets here a month from now, please tell someone trustworthy so you can get some more help. There are lots of professional people here to help you this week and some skilled non-professional helpers too. Some of them will be gone in month, but your school administrators and counselors and teachers and your youth workers and your family doctors will be able to help you get what you need for as long as you need help.

• We've all seen something we never wanted to see this week. We've seen something terrible that we never should have seen. This kind of thing is not supposed to happen, period. But it did, as such thing occasionally do -- and I'm really sad that it happened to you. Human beings are capable of so much that's good; so much that I believe reflects the goodness of our creator. Human beings are also capable of horrible evil that reflect our desperate brokenness. You're seeing ugliness you should never have to look at. I pray you will see goodness again very soon -- in fact, I pray that you will soon live goodness and spread it around like flower seeds. But first, you have to get through the days right in front of you, one day at a time.

• Do what you can to reflect the good and reject the evil. Do what you can to be there for each other -- you may be doing very well in a month but your friend or your teacher or parent may be in trouble. So do what you can to pay attention and be there to help someone else get help if she needs it.

Rich and I wrote The Youth Worker's Guide to Helping Teenagers in Crisis.

We are working on The Parent's Guide to Helping Teenagers in Crisis.

Next week (October 5-6, 2006) we are scheduled to teach eight hours on the subject at the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention in Austin, a again next month in Anaheim, Cincinatti and Charlotte.


Heidi Renee said...

Hope to see you in Cincinatti!

Len said...

Good stuff Jim. It reminds me of a lot of the principles I learned in NOVA.