Memorial Day began as a day of remembrance and reconciliation after the Civil War, and today I stand with my fellow Americans honoring the memory of those who have served us and enabled our freedom. A special bow of my head in memory of Uncle Tom, who lost his life at war, and to my sister, brother-in-law and nephew who continue to proudly serve today.
Over time, Memorial Day has become a day to visit graves of deceased relatives and hold others in remembrance. This year, in my small community in Iowa, we are holding in our thoughts three teens lost to suicide over the past six months.
Today I want to share with you a message that I wrote with my community in mind about how we must be vigilant during times of loss to keep hope alive.
Hope is fragile. And the death of hope is the greatest tragedy known to mankind.
In the face of loss, our challenge is to persevere through the darkest days, direct our focus to what we can learn from the experience, tap our courage to dream of a better day, and unleash our creativity to design what this looks like.
Although it may feel that there are no answers, there is a way to come through stronger and wiser and more unified. We must believe that not only can our loss stand for something, but that it must. Finding, creating, and crafting this path can only be accomplished with the support of others.
You may need to forge your path forward without knowing the answers you seek. This is tough for us humans. We like to be in control. We tend to ask “why?” and are constantly assigning reasons for things, called attributions. These make us feel secure. They give us a sense that we can prevent this bad thing from happening again. This drive is even stronger in parents and educators and community leaders who see it as their responsibility to solve problems and keep kids safe.
The reality is that we cannot explain the inexplicable. Nick __, who spoke at a recent community meeting, told how he lost his mom to suicide, which he describes as an individual terrorist act. The only one with the answers is gone. Nick’s mom left five suicide notes. Four were torn up and thrown away. He spent nearly two days piecing them together, held in place by small pieces of tape. With four and one-half notes before him, he had no more answers than when he started.
So where do we begin this daunting task of defining a new normal that allows for the inconceivable and inexplicable?
This is a time for vulnerability and unity and patience.
Fear is a part of our complex grief process. This is normal. What doesn’t feel normal is to sit with or express our fear. We want to squash it. We want to do anything to quell the anxiety we feel.
If we are not extremely aware of how we’re being triggered to do something – anything — to feel better, we often make poor choices to bring relief in the short term.
We may become inquisitors, focusing on what we or others knew or didn’t know; what we did or didn’t do. We then point fingers and judge the answers as not enough. We may pretend that we have all the answers. We may spread rumors, passing on information when we have no idea whether what we’re saying is the truth.
We make these choices in an attempt to relieve our inner turmoil. They pacify the need we feel to have a nice, neat life. They allow our ego to believe, for the moment, that the bad stuff happens “out there” while our homes and our schools and our communities and our lives are as orderly and picturesque as a beautiful main street of an Americana small town.
When we go for the quick fix, we tear others and our community down along the way.
The reality is that life is messy. Being a teenager is messy. Being a parent is messy. Bringing together a diverse group of people with varying backgrounds and faiths and political beliefs is messy. And it becomes even messier in the aftermath of a crisis.
The good news is that our lives can be precious in their imperfection and our communities beautiful in their differences. What makes this possible in basking in the hope for a brighter tomorrow and delighting in the kaleidoscope we create together.
We are in desperate need of leaders and role models. We need people to summon their courage and walk out their vulnerability. Say what is on your mind and in your heart and give your kids permission to do the same. Give the benefit of the doubt to your neighbors and school administrators and elected officials as they speak openly. When we speak our truth and listen to others’ truth with respect, we begin to heal.
This is a time for acknowledging our pain and confusion. A time for listening. A time for connecting. A time for asking for help. A time for supporting. A time for allowing that we have more questions than answers. A time for respecting the time and space needed to process and heal.
This is not a time to point fingers or judge or spread rumors. These behaviors kill hope. Be clear about what you know and what you don’t know. Be very careful about the information you pass on to others.
Sitting in the aftermath of these tragedies, I revisited my manuscript for Walking with Justice. I had already written how my mentor passionately kept hope alive for those he led, whether in the aftermath of a devastating flood or the loss of life.
I found myself writing… “Judge understood as a leader that the gravest danger in a crisis is the death of hope. His leadership refocused attention from darkness to light. See the light emanating from within – that is the light of potential. See the light in the distance – that is the light of possibility. See the light directly before you that will illuminate the way as you take a first step, and then another. This is the light of hope.”
It is often said that knowledge is power. Information is an important tool to grow ourselves and help heal and strengthen our community. But let us remember that our greatest source of power is our connection with and care for each other.
This is where our strength lies. This is where hope lives.