The last few days have brought more than their fair share of unexpected loss in our communities. As a world, we are still reeling from an uptick in horrific terrorist attack and squabbling about how to move forward. Closer to home, we recently learned that a friend from Oregon was killed in a hit and run accident. The vibrant life we had known transformed into a news report of a body found on the side of the road. Facebook has been an outpouring of photos and stories as an extended community of survivors grieves this loss. Yesterday, I learned that two young people here in our new community of Fort Collins lost their lives to suicide. Again, these deaths leave a dramatic mark of grief and loss on their families, schools, and communities and public displays of this grief have already started to bubble up.
In all of these cases, I was struck with the urgency I noticed (both in myself and in others) to go to the news and try to read/learn more. What happened? How could it happen? At times I think we’re looking to find a place to lay the blame, to point a finger to numb our grief. As if looking for clues that will lead to a satisfactory explanation, we dive into the media to tell us the story. The media obliges, pressing details out of officials and churning out their own versions of the story, of the context and events to explain what happened and we consume their product voraciously.
What is it about tragedy, about loss, that drives us to seek information? Is it a subconscious impulse to rebuild a sense of security through facts and details? Is it a way to evade the sadness and confusion and distract ourselves with important sounding information while still maintaining a psychologically safe connection to the tragedy? What need does this information meet and where does that need come from?
Perhaps, this drive to understand the details, is a desperate last attempt to understand another person’s story. I think we are hardwired to connect, to live in community with one another and build a fabric of reality through our interwoven stories. Sometimes, we get so caught up in our own threads that we don’t even notice what’ happening around us until one of those threads breaks and we notice the holes left behind. After a loss, we scramble and try to reconstruct the events, the story that we didn’t get to hear before. Tragically, this drive to listen to all the details, to understand another comes too late.
For all the players in these tragedies, there are layers and layers of stories that explain how we (the collective WE) got to now but we only stop to listen after some of the stories end. Sadly, the details that filter out through the media are only a small piece of the rest of the story. Caught up in the context and spin of stories that sell, we often only see a limited view into deeper and more complex histories of reality.Further, we sometimes only delve so deep into the stories from the other side. We don’t necessarily listen with the same care to the story of the man who hit our friend, for example, as we do for the story of our friend as the victim.
Imagine if we took the time to hear the stories directly to listen deeply, to understand before the stories end. What if we continued to listen, long after a tragedy, to continue to bear witness to one anothers’ circumstances. How tightly woven would our communities feel? How securely connected? How would we experience grief then? What role would media play in that kind of world? As I think about my work, my personal life, and my community, I hope to help support the exchanging of stories. Our workplaces, our families, and our neighborhoods desperately need this human element and the compassion that comes with it.