The True Tragedy

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Photo credit: Livestrong.org

Original publication in The South Pasadena Review, “A Stone’s Throw” Column, September 11, 2014

A few weeks ago, our community sighed in relief having averted a potential school shooting. But after the relief, comes reality. This scary scenario points to wounds that not only exist in our city, but among many teens around the US.

I don’t know why the arrested boys planned an attack on the high school; and I’m not going to guess. But this does make me wonder about the stress many teens face: mounting schoolwork, social pressures and complexities, home life, bullying, anger, depression, suicidal thoughts…

Consider some statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health:

– About 11 percent of adolescents have a depressive disorder by age 18.

– Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24.

– More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, combined.

Sometimes a teen’s problem may solely be a chemical imbalance; but often it’s combined with social factors or simply social-emotional.

“Every teen wants to be connected. Clearly, these teens [the arrested boys] did not feel connected to their community,” states Natasha Prime, Special Education Counselor at South Pasadena High School and founder/Executive Director of “The Place,” a teen center in South Pasadena.

Prime adds, “Lots of kids not associated with traditional school activities (like band or sports) can still be a part of a group. [At “The Place”] they have somewhere to go, a place to belong and be connected.”

Elizabeth Haeger, South Pasadena’s Young Life staff associate, shares from the book Hurt by Dr. Chap Clark, “The average American teenager has less than 2 minutes a day of meaningful, personal interaction with an adult, including their own parents.”

Haeger adds, “As someone who spends a lot of time with teenagers, I can tell you, a lot of kids are in a darker place than many adults realize… They feel hopeless and unknown.”

When I was a teen, I remember being verbally ridiculed by other kids for things like: my name, using a tissue for my nose, winning a contest, and reading a book in the “wrong” spot – all innocuous things. I’m sure kids have to endure far worse! But what made a difference for me was a considerate adult or a thoughtful and apt word from a peer.

Whether or not an unpleasant interaction is “deserved,” many kids (and might I add, adults) can be cruel. For some, it takes one incident and the internal damage is done. For others, decades of abuse can render one to believe they are unworthy; but they can still emerge as decent human beings.

It is not our job to determine what result a mean word or action will have on a person. Rather, it’s everyone’s civil duty and common decency to treat others with respect. Yes, be respectful even to the one causing the pain, without giving them the power to continue the venomous hate that really just makes them miserable people.

Those who harm verbally or physically need to be held accountable for the part they play (by calling them on it or bringing in professionals.) And hopefully, that will help them take a step toward betterment. No one is beyond help.

But before a person starts down the wrong path, each individual around them can make a difference. It’s easy to say or do a mean thing or judge a situation quickly. What’s infinitely more challenging is to go beyond instinct and replace the mean word or action with a gentle, sincere and healing one.

Go even further and be fierce in caring for people. Go up to someone who was just handed a blow and pepper them with a kind truth. The irony is: the one who hurts the most is the one who spreads the hurt. So be a person who intervenes and stops that cycle.

I don’t say these things because I am this ideal caring person. I write this because I sometimes judge and spew venom (if only in my head and spilling out at times). But with the help of God and good friends, I must strive for better. And I’m guessing, no matter where we are on the care meter, we can all make improvements here.

I was angry with the two boys who were arrested because they allegedly meant to inflict serious harm. But then the anger turned to sympathy for us all: the boys, their families, those who can help prevent tragedies and those who are still being victimized.

The problem was thwarted but the pain persists. Are you the one causing pain? Are you the one taking it? (Don’t give up on seeking help, you will find it!) Are you the one watching it happen all around and doing little to nothing about it? All of us can probably answer “yes” to each.

The true tragedy would be moving forward like nothing ever happened. We can all take a moment to creatively imagine what can be done to turn a community-wide scare into a more healing future. We can recognize the underlying pain that exists all around and do something about it.

Resources to connect teens to peer communities and people who care:

http://www.theplaceofsouthpas.org (a safe place after school for 13-18 year olds)

http://www.greaterpasadena.younglife.org (Wyldlife is for those in middle school and Young Life is for high school students. YoungLife and WyldLife groups meet in various cities. Meetings are a fun, energetic and thoughtful place for teens.)

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An Abyss of Grief: Tragedy in Connecticut and Mourning Together

Our hearts, as a nation in mourning, sank to new depths today. When innocent children and adults are sacrificed to the ills of our world, I’m sickened and saddened to an unfathomable degree.

Even in an idylic place, as Newton has been described, even in this haven, a town is plunged into mourning… and we grieve with them.

I can’t help but pause.

Pause and ask questions. Why did this happen? Who would do this? How did people miss how dangerous this person was? Is it possible to prevent a disturbed person from doing this again? How? Where is it safe?…

Pause and agree with texts and posts about hugging our kids a little more often, a little longer. Saying “I love you” often.

Pause and appreciate what (and who) we have in our lives, instead of complaining about what (and who) we don’t have.

Pause and prioritize. What really matters here? Did I have to get that upset over the bakery items I bought, left, and can’t go back for?

Pause and grieve with families like our own, who were going about their usual day when for them, the unimaginable happened. We grieve because we connect with humanity, knowing it can happen to any of us and sorry it had to happen to anyone at all.

Pause and pray. This is not a ritual. It’s recognizing that we are small and God is big enough to care for our pains. And God is great enough to bring light into a horrid mess, that is us.

In the weeks to come, many will pause to find answers and a truer picture of the details will emerge. To pause for personal reflection could also be a benefit.

Wise gun control laws are surely one part of the solution. But there’s another part, perhaps an even bigger part… our personal responsibility, not just on how guns are handled but how our relationships are handled.

Are we loving those who are close to us, knowing they are with us for a time and in our care, on loan from God? Are we loving the community around us — the people who happen into our lives, near and far — who because of our kindness can change the trajectory of their lives for the better.

Because grieving comes in waves, may we take the crests of our sadness and mold them into good.

And may the good people in and around Sandy Hook, and those however connected to them, know God’s peace in a time that is humanly impossible to bear.