Newtown: Thick with Grief, Full of Spirit– and Even Joy

August 1, 2013

In the bucolic community of Sandy Hook, the air hangs thick with grief and anxiety. I visited with Dr. James Gordon at the end of July, as CMBM’s new Global Trauma Relief Coordinator, seeing and talking to people who had been profoundly affected by the December 14th shootings at their elementary school. I had followed these events from afar, of course, but now I was actually listening to how people’s lives had changed, and realized that it’s not just the people who lost family and friends who are suffering. Everyone in the Newtown area, perhaps across the state, now sees life differently. Some heard the gunshots. Some saw children flee—and didn’t know why. Some saw the dead, and painfully realized they couldn’t restore life. Tragedy has visited others since then, but in the shadow of December 14, they grapple with it quietly. And how to celebrate? Babies are born; there are birthdays. I worried about being seen as an interloper.

CMBM’s mission is to help people recover from tragedy and Dr. Gordon first visited the Newtown area shortly after the shootings to see what we might offer. Since then, he and my predecessor have been visiting monthly, conducting large and small group workshops and teaching people mind-body skills. In our group we were invited to say how we were feeling and share whatever we wanted. Much of it was serious and somber, as we wrestled with a host of feelings – from the shootings and also just from life. Then, after the break, it was time for mind-body learning. I did shaking and dancing meditation for the first time, along with seasoned participants and a few new ones. I didn’t know what to expect and I groaned silently when Dr. Gordon said 3 MORE MINUTES for the shaking. What is going on? I wondered. This feels weird. And I feel a bit silly.

Finally the shaking was finished and it was time for the moving — dancing to the sultry tones of Bob Marley. Dr. Gordon suggested we dance with our eyes closed and just move as we wished. And so we did. Did it work? Yes, indeed. With warm blood coursing through our bodies, delivering fresh oxygen to our extremities and releasing a smattering of endorphins, we smiled and expressed feelings of lightness. The somber feelings had not vanished, but for time being, in our safe haven, we had fun, smiled, giggled and laughed. I learned that we all can have spirit and joy even when life offers unfathomable challenges and the mind-body techniques we learned that day can lead us there.