Coping with a National Tragedy
by Amanda Kirk, MS.
Fall is finally here. And with it has come the usual bombardment of candy corn, witches and goblins, and All. Things. Pumpkin. Spice. Pop up shops advertising Halloween costumes and gory decor have…well, popped up, and all the kids are planning which favorite character or creature they will transform into as they scavenge for treats in a few weeks.
As I passed by one of those shops this weekend, I was reminded of a little boy I saw standing in one. His gaze was locked on the large displays set up near the front of the store. Creepy creatures that moved eerily and made frightening sounds had his undivided attention. He appeared to be studying them carefully, parsing out what was for show versus what was for real. Around him, older kids took great delight in scaring each other or being “scared” by the displays. Younger kids and their parents perused costumes of a much gentler, cuddlier, cuter nature. But he paid them no attention. He was singularly focused on the frightful sights and sounds before him. Almost as if he couldn’t look away.
I thought about that little boy. He didn’t act terrified, but neither was he particularly enjoying himself. For that moment, he was just…stuck in reverie. I hoped his young mind made sense of it all in a way that promoted a sense of good, festive fun rather than something more sinister and troubling.
And then, Sunday night in Las Vegas happened.
We are left reeling from yet another tragedy. The news stunned me when I woke up Monday morning. I quickly found myself searching for answers. Was there a motive? A history? What were the clues? The signs? Why, oh why?? It was almost like I couldn’t look away.
As I scrolled the news feeds with a knot in my stomach, I was surprised to find myself thinking of that little boy in the Halloween shop again. The one who couldn’t look away from the gory display. Who seemed stuck in his gaze at the awful thing before him. Maybe it was because I fear the temptation to get stuck in a negative, tunnel-vision spiral when confronted with an onslaught of terrible happenings and information.
In times like these, we often imagine that finding out the “why” and “how” will help in some way. That maybe knowing will somehow ease our pain with understanding and abate our fear with better skill at preventing future atrocities. Even when it doesn’t exactly help in the moment, we keep searching, watching the news, grappling with what we come to learn. There is certainly a time, place, and process for that, and I’m grateful for what has been learned and implemented from such investigations into past tragedies; but we must not stay there.
I thought about my wish for that little boy and it transformed into a prayer for all of us.
I pray we will have the courage to look at the evil that confounds us, terrifies us, and seek out what is real versus imagined; then reject needless imaginations while confronting actual threat and clinging to truth.
I pray we will also look away from evil in light of what else is out there. Sometimes, we need to turn off the news and turn on a movie. Sometimes, we need to ditch the ‘to do’ list for some fresh air and play. Mr. Rogers famously told of his mother teaching him to look for the helpers when he saw scary things happening. We can look for and thank the helpers. We can be the helpers.
Do not belittle small acts of kindness, tender displays of care. They add up, and even tend to multiply. Goodness does not ignore evil, pretending it does not exist by putting rose colored glasses – or apathetic ones – over our willfully blinded eyes. Rather, goodness combats it, fights off its oppression, extends hope.
Practically speaking? Find the good in the world – a toddler’s silly antics, a laugh shared with a friend, a stranger’s kindness. Celebrate it, promote it, join with it. Do the good in the world – donate time, money, resources to worthwhile causes and organizations to help others in need. Examine your priorities, adjust, edit, eliminate in order to give attention to what matters most. Be the good in the world – live fully, love others, be gracious to everyone, including yourself. Enjoy simple pleasures. Laugh, play, dance in your living room, sing in the shower, linger over hot meals and warm conversations.
And one October day (or, let’s be honest, maybe all the October days), savor that pumpkin spice latte, and surprise a friend – or stranger – with one too.
(Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by the tragedies in Las Vegas and elsewhere. If you are struggling to cope, we welcome you to contact us for support and help.)