What begins as trauma endures as strain. It reshapes us as subtly as water sculpts granite. Recent geopolitical and economic crises, tornadoes, flooding and wildfires have affected our essence as a nation, a community, a family. When in crisis, the last thought one has is, “How can we get perspective on how each of us is affected?” Instead, we experience disbelief, fear, reaction, dread. It’s emergency mode: evacuation backpacks, lists of essentials, the six P’s: people, pets, pills, papers, photos, phones. The most important P is not even on the list– the psychological impact.
Once the winds, fires, tornadoes, floods and shock from losses subside, we are disoriented and frightened. We emerge filled with anxiety, feelings of helplessness, displaced, and changed. Our existences have been turned upside down. Now we must understand the trauma and mitigate the strain, so the reshaping/ sculpting can leave us improved.
These moments call us to what is most important. How do we empower our children and families to rise to the challenges and grow stronger?
We might look to the Native Americans who have, this very month , lost thousands of acres of sacred land and habitat to wildfires. They have pooled family and community resources to confront the crisis. They are models of belief, viewing natural disasters, even the most devastating, as part of the cycle of dying and rebirth. We may not agree with this philosophy, yet a vivid moment related to me may impress you also: A Native American elder in a small New Mexico town, knelt on the ground as he faced west toward the enormous, exploding smoke plume coming from his reservation. Hat in hand and head bowed, this powerful figure prayed aloud in his own language, then sprinkled a handful of the earth around his feet. What can we take from this image, and his strong, quiet spirit?
Robin Turner, MSW, LCSW, Psy.D.
President, St. Louis Psychoanalytic Institute