Tragic Realities by Venessa Bowers



I have talked a lot in my previous blogs about being a therapist who works with traumatized children. These children, who have become such an important part of my life, who I am blessed to consider as surrogate family, are kids that struggle to make sense of the things that have happened to them. When a child looks into your eyes and asks “why?” it can easily feel as if you are being asked to explain the tragic realities of the world in language a 5-year-old will understand. That is not possible.


It is also not possible to understand tragedy by using the television or social media as the method of sense-making. By definition, television, and in some ways, social media venues, are echo chambers that allows for our voices to be heard in our own heads – we are talking to ourselves. It is one-way communication and there is no reciprocity in the messages. Social media is a little bit different in that people can comment on posts and that lets one feel as if she/he is “talking” to someone – however, we are only responding to each other, we are not communicating. The notion of sense-making requires communication. Effective communication has the intrinsic goal of arriving at shared meaning with another person – that is the outcome that really matters.


I am writing about two things of relevance in our world today: the overuse of media to explain the decisions and actions of “the other;” and the tragedy that happened in Newtown, Connecticut where a gunman opened fire in an elementary school, killing first graders and the teachers and administrative staff who tried to protect them.


First, it is important to state that there is very little the public will ever know about the mind of the young man who killed 20 children and 6 adults. Certainly we can armchair psychologize or pathologize this young man – we can call him evil, we can say he had a mental illness, we can blame his use of video games and music, and television, and whatever else we can find to blame for this young man’s behavior. Do you notice I keep using the words “young man?” Remembering he was a person, and a young one, is imperative to healing the collective hurt we feel about the day all those people died.  I do not say this as a way to “feel sorry” for him or excuse his behavior, but we must remember that he was a person too. It is pointless to listen to the speculation about who he was, how he was raised, what he did for recreation, etc., in the hope of finding the panacea that will prevent another tragic reality. That’s the point – very often, reality is tragic.


It is heart breaking to think of the families who have lost their children. I cannot even venture to imagine the crippling pain they are feeling and will feel for the rest of their lives. I am not a woman who has children – that was not a choice, and I know the grieving I have done around not being a mother. However, even as a therapist, I cannot say how one would even begin to grieve the loss of a child that one had dropped off to make holiday decorations at school a few hours earlier. Gone. Just gone. That is unimaginable pain – they were not my children and yet, my heart is broken because the promise each in turn had for the world was taken swiftly and without explanation.


The adults who used their bodies to shield the children in their care are also mourned and will be mourned by those who loved them for as long as those people live. Their heroism and bravery are little comfort in the face of their absence.


The point of this writing is to be clear – it is not for any of us to try to analyze the mind of this young man, to step into the grief of the families who lost their children, or to come to grips with what went through the minds of the adults who tried to protect the children in the moments before they died. What we can do is grieve for the tragic reality of this moment in time. We can hug our children closer and love a bit more freely. We can practice random acts of kindness. We can be the adults we want our children to be and that means we have to stop trash taking things like mental illness, when we know nothing about it; we need to stop politicking for gun laws when we know politicians cannot even find the door to their offices without help; we need to stop spewing hatred and bigotry on social media; and we need to move away from our televisions as the arena to provide answers.


Simply, we have to live. We have to remember. We have to do better in this life that we are still living while honoring the lives that ended in yet another tragic reality. We need to accept that reality is tragic. We need to stop trying to buy our way out of that reality with new cars, new homes, new guns, and new whatever. We need to become part of a community again. We need to know our neighbors. We need to give a damn about someone other than ourselves. If we can do that – any of that – the likelihood that reality will continue to be tragic may not change all that much, but how we get through it will. We will do it together. And that’s what matters.


Bright Blessings.


1 comment so far

  1. Harold P. Donle (Butch) on

    you are such a damn good writer, you should be writing books.

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